Monday, March 29, 2010

Brushing Teeth?

The Question:

So I have a 20 month old daughter. For the longest time brushing her teeth was a breeze-even fun almost. I'd give her a toothbrush with toddler toothpaste and she'd suck it all off (of course) and then I'd go in with my own tooth-pasted toothbrush and actually do some brushing. Lately though, she'll want both toothbrushes to suck on, and clamps down refusing to let me anywhere near her teeth. I know it's really important to brush her teeth, but I can't seem to get her to understand that and let me help. I've tried singing songs and getting her to say 'ahh' but every time the toothbrush comes near her mouth, it shuts. I get so angry that today I actually had to walk away and make my husband do it. Help?!?


The Answer:

Dear Emily,
Tooth brushing is not my very best area. I am in awe of parents who are faithful and whose children have no cavities. I've tried to follow a good bedtime routine. My very best success came when I hung a little chart in the bathroom with our night time routine on it. The children would move their magnetic little animal up the chart as they accomplished each of their bedtime tasks: get a drink, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, read a story, say prayers, stay in bed. If they did it all for five nights in a row, they would get a prize. Maybe that would work for you. The "brush teeth" part would just be part of the routine.

I was at the home of a large family the other night. The whole family was watching TV and, one by one, the little children would lay down on the floor while their mom brushed their teeth (using children's tooth paste). She just sat down with her legs straddled and they would just lay there in turn while she had a great view of their mouth (dentist style) and brushed. Wow. So great. The kids seemed fine with the whole process--just watching TV!

Usually these little rebellions are short-lived if you gently push through them and avoid power struggles. I try to help my children feel in control of the situation. "You decide how much tooth paste. You tell me when we can start. You put up your finger if it hurts." Maybe it's something real, like a little sore gum or a canker sore.

Hopefully one of these suggestions will help, and I look forward to the other ideas our readers will share.

Much love,

Nap Time?

The Question:
Hi Jane!

I am a stay at home mother with three young children (7,4, & 2). I have a question! We are transitioning our 2 year old son to sleeping in a toddler bed. As with our other children, the change at night has not been difficult. There are all those wonderful bed time cues, not to mention the darkness, to make it clear that this is bedtime. When it comes to nap time, however, it has always been a struggle to make the change with each of our kids when they were the right age. Instead of napping our son gets out of bed and wanders around the room getting in to things. There aren't toys in the room, just the beds and dressers, so there isn't much exciting to distract him, but still he wanders and plays instead of sleeping.

Of course, when he napped in the crib he would often play happily for a while before sleeping also, but he did sleep within a reasonable amount of time. Now he is putting off sleep for so long that I become uncertain whether to move him back into his crib for his nap (but that might teach him to play every day until the 'real' nap time arrived) or just ride it out even though some days that means a skipped nap.

He has always been a really easy going kid, and he does not usually fight sleeping (unlike some other children I've had!). He is a sweet boy, such a joy to be raising. I just need some ideas of how to help him adjust to nap time in a toddler bed.

Do you have any ideas or advice for how I might teach him that nap time is for sleeping, even when he is in a bed that he can get out of?

Thank you!

The Answer:

Dear Becca,
Good question! I think the thing that makes nap time tricky, is that as children grow older, their sleep needs change. They seem to be in a good routine and then one day, they just won't go to sleep. The two suggestions I have for you are 1) go ahead and put him in his crib for nap time. He'll learn that it's this bed for naps and this bed for nighttime. 2) put some books and quiet toys in with him and let him play (as you have been) til he falls asleep. But if, after 45 minutes or so, he hasn't fallen asleep, then he really isn't tired. Just plan on an earlier bedtime.

It sounds like he's a wonderful little boy and you're a great mother. I love how you're really tuned in to him and care about his feelings. I think parents run into the biggest sleep problems when they force children to cater to their routine instead of figuring out what works best for their child's changing needs.

With Love,


Should I Be Worried?

The Questions:

Hi Jane,
I just found your blog and am so glad I did. I have an AA in Child Development and have found your answers so satisfying on what I believe is the right way in child rearing. So despite all this I still worry constantly about my child (it's always so much different when it's your own). My 2 1/2 year old I've noticed is such a follower. When we go to the park he just watches the other kids and then does what they do. Once when camping my friends little guy wandered into some bushes and my son followed. The problem with that was that my son isn't as advanced as other kids his age. He didn't walk till he was 18 months and doesn't get around as well as his peers. So when he follows others he often gets himself into precarious situations. So I know that some kids learn by watching others but my main concern is how do I help him become more independent. I'm worried that if he stays a follower that it could lead him to trouble when he's a teenager and bad choices are around.

My second concern is that he idolizes another mom (my best friend to be exact) and although I love her a lot, I feel jealous when my two year old goes to her for more juice or for whatever help he needs. And she's very helping so maybe he just sees her as a helper I don't know. Even in his prayers he'll sometimes forget to say thank you for momma but he rarely needs prompting to say thank you for the other mom. Perhaps it's because she is his best friends mom. I have 2 classes that I'm taking this semester and I really just want to be home with my son and my baby (he's 9 mo). Is this behavior happening b/c he doesn't feel that I'm there to help him? I'm just really confused and could use some encouragement and ideas.
Thanks so much and keep up the great blog!!

The Answers:

Dear Anonymous,

In the situations you've described, I want to put your mind at ease. Your son is very normal and will outgrow both tendencies. Just keep a close eye on him while he's two and three so he doesn't wander off. But he will gradually assert more and more of his own independence as he grows. Maybe he's just very social!

In the case of his seeming preference for your friend, that's ok too. I've come to value every person who plays a positive role in my children's lives and to enjoy their special relationships. Your son has probably figured out that your friend caters to his needs more than you do (like a grandma). But over the long haul, you are his anchor. Especially, during this hectic time in your own life, be grateful for the extra ring of support.

Hopefully you'll be home full-time soon as you'd like.
With Love,

Financial Concerns and Family Planning?

Hello! This is Natalie. Just a few small items of business:
First, Thanks so much for visiting! My mom and I have been gushing to each other all weekend about the comments you've left, the nice things you've written on your blogs, and just the number of people who have taken an interest in this site. It really makes us happy, so thanks!
Second, We have a whole slew of questions/answers to post, so we will be posting all of them today.

And Finally, we will probably start posting "Letters From Jane" about once a week. We're thinking question/answers on Mondays, Letters on Fridays...but we'll just see how it goes.

Now on to more important matters...

The Question:

My question is about finances. At the present time we only have two children and I am wanting very badly to have a third (all 2 years apart). However, the economy being what it is, my husband's company has no plans for up-grading (he is a pilot) in any near future. He took college classes as long as he could, but now this summer we are facing THE STUDENT LOANS. It cost a lot to be a pilot and the looming debt feels like it is about to crush us. Usually pilots are only first officers at a regional airline for a couple years but we are well into year 3 and like I said, he still has 800 people above him before he can become a captain.

We bought a duplex two years ago since we knew things would be tight (the loan officer actually said, "Well, you'll make more money eventually, right?" haha). I don't mind living here - it is small but not as small as it could be - but even with that, we barely make ends meet. If it weren't for tax return season, we'd be sunk. I often feel torn about doing something like child care to earn extra money, but I feel like my hands are full as it is - then add another child of our own (which I want so badly)...

What is the balance between faith and using your own judgment? When he makes captain it will double our income and that is just in the first year so I don't want to limit our family when I know things will get better... Some day. What were some of your experiences in this area as you added children to your life? And what are some of your tips for budgeting/money managing? Do you have any recipes or food ideas you would share that have helped stretch your dollar?
Thanks as always,


The Answer:

Dear Rachael,

This, I'm sure, is going to sound very irresponsible, but we never considered finances when having our family. It just didn't factor in. We paid for our first couple of children with student loans! For some, we had great insurance, for others, we scrimped by. When we had four children, we went back to school for a PhD and lived in a basement apartment for a while (and had another baby). We had an agenda--having a family--and we just moved ahead with it. Things always worked out. We've taken criticism for this over the years, but I think that when you're sure of yourself, when you really know what you want, and when you have a sense of purpose about your life from an eternal perspective, you can weather all the obstacles.

Little children don't really know when things are tight. Their needs are so simple and their satisfaction so easy to achieve. By the time we were making a good living and bought our first home, we had five children. We've gone on with financial ups and downs over the years. When we've had the money, we've taken some wonderful vacations, when we haven't, we've gone camping. The money end of things has always been my husband's worry. Mine was creating happiness out of whatever we had.

We often shopped at thrift stores and garage sales. It's a fun family activity and my daughters have become geniuses at finding wonderful things for almost nothing.

I cook from scratch. Over the years, I've developed a system of grocery shopping that saves a great deal. I keep a stock of all the basics which I replenish when they go on sale. So the only things I usually buy weekly, are dairy and fruits & vegetables that are in season (and therefore cheaper). And if one of my staples-- for example sugar or chicken breasts-- is on sale, I stock up. When I make out a weekly menu, it only includes dairy products, fresh produce and a few random items like tortillas or hamburger buns. So I'm always paying the minimum for everything and I'm accumulating a good, usable food storage at the same time.

I keep a three ring binder with my family-tested recipes on full pages, by category in page protectors. That way, I never have to go hunting for that pancake or french bread recipe. It encourages me to cook inexpensively. Those are some of my practical ideas.

Of course, everyone must consider their own situation and chart their own course. But this is my story. And I want to assure you that if you want a child and are feeling the urge to have one, you can. I wish you all the best in this important decision.

All my love,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Letter From Jane: Discipline

Dear Readers,

What a great experience it’s been so far, connecting with you on this blog. I feel like I’ve met so many wonderful mothers. I love your comments! They fill in all the gaps in my answers and it feels like, together, we create solutions that are real and complete. I wish we could all get together somewhere.

I’ve decided that occasionally, I’m just going to talk to you—without answering a question. I feel like, in some ways, the ‘question’ format leaves gaps and may cause confusion. So, once in a while, I’m just going to lay out an idea for you. For example, we’ve never discussed babies—how to truly nurture a baby. I feel that this is basic and key to our success as we teach our children later on. I’d love to hear your ideas on early bonding, and as you’ve probably guessed, I have a few of my own. So that will be one of my topics.

But because so many of your questions have focused on discipline and my answers create a somewhat incomplete picture, today, I’m going to lay out my whole philosophy on that subject. This “laying out” will include bits and pieces or things you’ve already read in my answers but, hopefully, will create a more complete picture.

Motherhood took on a whole new meaning for me when I adopted a more proactive approach that was based on some basic goals. The two goals that I have as I raise little children are 1) to preserve and strengthen our relationship and 2) to develop their deep, inner feelings of right and wrong. When your children emerge from these early years and become teen-agers, you will want to have firmly established those two things. It isn’t the easiest method of parenting. It takes constant thought and focus. The focus is on building a strong bond of love, helping children to succeed at what you ask them to do, and teaching instead of constant disciplining.

Physical discipline is destructive when you consider both of those goals. Not only does it damage the relationship, but it absolves a child of responsibility for what they’ve done. They have paid for the crime so there is no need to feel sorrow for it. At best, it is a deterrent—and if our goal is just to produce acceptable outward behavior, then it’s useful. The motivation will be fear of punishment. But our goal is to develop our child from the inside out—the motivation being a desire to be good.

Living by rigid natural consequences can also be counter-productive for the same reasons. This is where my philosophies might become confusing. Shouldn’t we provide a consistent environment where there are always the same consequences? Sometimes. I love structure and routine. I think they build security. But when our children make mistakes, our focus should be on teaching them, helping them to repair any damage and fostering their own feelings of sorrow.

It’s hard for me to watch parents who hold their children to high standards of accountability at an early age. The Lord is very clear that little children are without sin. He doesn’t hold them accountable for sin until they are 8. Why do we think that a 3 year old should pay for their sins? They’re young, with brains that are not fully capable. They don’t think or understand things the way adults do—even though they may be very smart. We are teaching them every day how to obey. Hopefully, they are getting better and better at it. Sometimes, they have bad days, or even a bad week or two. They move from stage to stage, and for some children, these transitions are difficult. Our role is to love and teach them through.

Success is defined by moments—I call them amazing moments—when we see our child respond to their own feelings. Here is a recent example. My daughter Natalie was driving home one evening with her husband and all the boys. They had planned to stop for pizza but changed their mind. Four year old Jack was disappointed and started to cry. He continued crying as they drove home and said “I don’t love you, Mom.” Natalie didn’t reprimand but realized that this had been a big disappointment for Jack and continued home. Later, without saying anything about Jack’s behavior, she made smoothies for the boys. While Jack was drinking his, he said, “Mom, I’ll never say I don’t love you any more.” This is an amazing moment. It may seem small but it represents a great deal. Jack was not forced to apologize. His gesture sprang from his own heart. He realized that he had been wrong all on his own and he repaired it. The two goals we talked about came in to play—Jack’s love for his mother and the development of his own conscience.

Children, as they grow, have an innate sense of right and wrong and they feel a level of discomfort when they misbehave. When we are kind to them-- when we don’t make them pay for their mistakes, they feel uncomfortable until they do something about it.

Keep in mind that Jack is four years old. His mind is much more developed than a two-year old. And while you may see some of these “amazing moments” in your 2 or 3 year old, they will become much more frequent in later years.

You can kill this sensitivity in your children if you are in the habit of using harsh punishment or discipline. It may take a while for their consciences to respond on their own once you instead take the time to help them really tune in to it. Ease up on the way you discipline, avoid force. Don’t frame things up with consequences “if you do that one more time….” but instead take in the situation, figure out what you are trying to teach, and patiently keep teaching it. You’re not allowing your child to run wild, but rather very actively taking the time to know your child and lovingly helping him to grow in positive ways.

For children between 18 months and 3, the emphasis is on teaching and loving. Don’t engender anger. Try to avoid this. Just shepherd them patiently through these irrational years and learn to love and appreciate their wonderful, joyful little ways. Hold them close and read every day. Play their games. Gently enforce limits without terribly high expectations. Some of them are so precocious that we think of them as little adults—especially oldest children, but the “logical” side of their brain is not even close to fully developed. The biggest myth and mistake of parents of 2 and 3 year olds is that “if I let them get away with this now, they’ll turn into juvenile delinquents.” Instead, think, “when this child is five, he will have outgrown almost everything I’m worried about.”

When our son, Peter, was 2, he had a terrible habit of head-butting anyone holding him against his will. If you picked him up from behind, he would throw his head back and give you a fat lip. I remember when three of us had fat lips at the same time! He was also impossible to take into stores. He would just get overly stimulated by the experience and behave terribly. My sister used to joke, “It takes a village to raise Peter.” Fortunately, our family of 10 was a small village by then. I’d like you to know him now at age 8. He is purely delightful. Everyone who knows him, loves him. He’s well behaved and happy and never gives us fat lips and is great in stores.

When our daughter Marlee was 2, she refused to sleep in her own bed. She wanted to cuddle up to go to sleep. I didn’t know why—whether she was just scared or lonely, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. So I put a small mattress under the side of my bed and let her sleep there (or usually put her there after she had fallen asleep.) She’s in college now. She sleeps in her own bed. And to tell you the truth, I miss that soft little body curled up beside me.

My very wise uncle, who had raised a very large family said at the end, “I think the only time we really mess our children up, is when we become overly anxious about them.” A loving, accepting environment brings out wonderful things in children. Doesn’t it bring out the best in you? That’s why the golden rule is a good key. When you have to say no, say it lovingly. “ I know. I wish we could stay here at the park all day. But we have to go home and have a snack.” Then pick them up and soothe them to the car. In this way, even saying no can strengthen your bond. They feel understood and sympathized with rather than dominated.

These are the principles I have lived by for the past 20 years or so, and every personality type flourishes with them. I even work part time with wayward teens and I feel that the same principles apply. Love is light. Light helps everything grow. The difficult part is to stay loving through all the stages and phases and struggles. That’s why motherhood is a sanctifying experience.

Hopefully this has been helpful.

All my love,


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two-Year-Old Bully?

The Question:

Hi Jane,

I have a friend, Sue, who has a 2 year old that is rather spoiled. Sue is a very sweet and soft spoken person. She sometimes lets people walk all over her because of how non-confrontational she is. This is the case with her daughter, Kate. Sue gives Kate WAY too many warnings- I am of the Super Nanny school of thought, where you give one warning, and then an immediate consequence. (I.E. "If you do that again, I'm going to put you in a time out" and then follow through!) I've seen Sue tell Kate to do something, and warn that if she doesn't listen, then she'll have to go straight down for her nap... Kate doesn't listen, Sue gives MORE chances, and then when Sue picks up Kate to put her in bed, Kate immediately says, "I'm sorry" and Sue gives her that extra chance. So Kate has learned that she doesn't have to listen to her mom until she starts to take action. This has taught Kate that she can get away with a lot, because most of the time, her mom has zero follow through.

Here's how it affects us. Kate pinched my baby repeatedly when we were in the car together a few months ago. My son was crying really hard, but I was driving and thought he just didn't want to be in his car seat. As we were getting Kate out of the car, she admitted that she pinched him, but I didn't realize how bad it was. When I saw my son's arm in the dim light of the car, I told Sue he really had red marks, and Sue didn't really say much to Kate. (It really bugged me that that was all that happened, but I am not Kate's mom, and I can't tell Sue how to parent.) Then I got home into the light, and I burst into tears. My baby's arm had many red welts that later bruised. It looked awful. I myself am rather non-confrontational, and I didn't know how to approach the situation with Sue, because the time to punish Kate had already come and gone. Looking back, I should have asked Sue to see what was wrong while we were driving, but I just had no idea at the time, and months later, I still feel awful for it.

So I said nothing more, and my husband and I vowed to just always keep an eye out for our baby when we are around Sue and her family. Which we do, but now the problem is, I am terrified of Kate, and don't really want to spend ANY time with Sue, who I was really close with before this happened. What Kate did to my baby really creeps me out, because she had no problem repeatedly hurting my crying baby for 30 minutes. I understand that 2 year olds sometimes will hit, scratch, bite, pinch, etc... if they are provoked (if a toy is taken, if they are upset and don't get their way...) but I have NEVER met a kid who is content to hurt a baby who is clearly crying out in pain for 30 minutes. I know that Kate has also really hurt another baby in the past as well. It scares me that Kate has such aggression toward babies, and since my baby now crawls, it is harder for me to protect him from Kate as easily.

What can we do?? We love our friends, but I fear that we might lose the friendship, because I really want nothing to do with Kate. I'm sure at some point she will grow out of this, but for now it terrifies me to be around her, because I almost think there is something wrong with her. My mom thinks Kate should be evaluated. I know this seems like an exaggeration, but her behavior reminds me a lot of Maculay Culkin's character in the movie The Good Son. (There's the link if you're not familiar with it.) But basically, he is a twisted kid, who feels no remorse for his actions. (I.e. When Kate announced that she pinched my baby it was said very matter of factly. Like saying the sky is blue.)

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it. This incident happened months ago, and I have tried to just get over it, but I am having a really hard time doing it. Any suggestions would be wonderful.


The Answer:

Dear Anonymous,

Your letter captures so well the protective feelings of a mother. I think we've all been there! I've always thought I'd rather be injured, ridiculed, offended or snubbed a hundred times over than to endure the misery of watching my children go through those things. It's our commission, after all, to keep each of them safe from harm.I have evolved as a mother in many ways--but on this very issue, I may have experienced the greatest evolution. Before I preach a sermon, I will say that I think your first instinct--to keep the friendship intact and be vigilant about your son--is right on the money.

I'm sad to report that the experience you described is going to repeat itself a hundred times and in a hundred different ways over the course of your life as a mother. You'll watch your children suffer injustices large and small. Someone will bite them in the nursery. There will be bullies. Your child will be the only one not invited. Friends will turn on them and break their hearts. The hard part is knowing when to step in and how. I will tell you something that comes from the benefit of years and years of experience. Looking back, you will always be glad when you did the generous, unselfish, forgiving thing--when you took the high road, when you were able to consider not just your child, but the injuring party as well. There are several reasons for this.

1. It's Christ-like. If there was one thing the Savior set an example of, it was forgiveness. And he expects that of us as well--70 times 7. If we can be patient and forgiving with people even in spite of that "mother tiger" instinct we have to protect our children, then we experience true growth as a person. Outrage is replaced with peace and confidence as we formulate a plan that emulates the Savior.

2. We teach our children the greatest lessons of their lives. Now I know that your little baby isn't watching your example. But very soon, he will be. He will learn in church and at your knee about patience and forgiveness, but nothing will compare to the lessons you will teach him when he comes to you with a real hurt. We have a funny family story. My brother, Scott, when he was young, came in and told my mother that some older boys had taken his toy guns. My mother was mad at those bullies and said, angrily, "You go out there and you tell them that if they don't give you your guns right now, your mother is going to come out there and... (you get the idea) So Scott started out the door, but returned after only a few moments. "How about if I say "Could I please have my guns back?" He soon returned with the guns. It isn't always that simple. But aren't we here on earth to learn to "bless them that curse you" "do good to them that despitefully use you"? Our children won't be any better at that than we are. Now is the time to develop patterns of kindness.

3. I love a quote by Emma McKay, "A true mother is a mother to all children everywhere." I admit honestly that I have failed to be motherly to all children everywhere, but that quote reminds me to try. You might be able to play a positive role in Kate's life by working with her patiently and trying to connect with her. She's really just an irrational 2-year-old who may not be as malicious as you think. Your friend is probably frustrated and would appreciate your help and support. Try not to judge her. Just be a good friend.

I realize this answer is much more long-range than you bargained for. And it certainly flies in the face of our present "look out for number one" culture. You may fear raising a family of "door-mats" if you take my advice. But you won't. Your children will be more tender and outwardly focused. They will learn to resolve differences more intelligently. And this stance is consistent with the loving approach that you are using to teach them everything else in life.

Of course, being forgiving does not necessitate fostering toxic, damaging relationships. As our children grow older, we can help them to surround themselves with good, uplifting people as their closest friends while treating others with kindness and respect.

With love,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Screaming 4-Year-Old?

The Question:

Hi Jane!!

Thank you so much for this great website. I feel like this method is what I have been looking for because constant time-outs are not working anymore. Anyways, my 4 year old daughter is starting to drive me and my husband nuts!!! She cries and screams about EVERYTHING!! If we say"no" about anything she throws a huge tantrum. The hard part is when we are out in public or with family or friends and we tell her "no" she starts screaming and yelling and I just don't know how to handle the situation. We have started losing our patience with her and it has made us angrier and in turn she gets angry back and yells, slams doors, etc. How do I turn this around before it's too late? I don't want her to act like this and I fear that a lot of it is because we have lost patience.

Thanks again for any advice! Really appreciate it!


The Answer:

Dear Kelly,

Sometimes being a mother is so much like being a doctor. You see symptoms and you aren't sure if they're a sign of something serious or whether it's some small minor virus that will pass in a few days. Such is the case with your screaming child. Is she just going through a phase? Is she deep down discouraged? Or is she finding that screaming gets results? Since we can't be sure, let's cover all the bases.

Make sure that you are connecting with her in positivie ways throughout the day. Really pour it on. She's getting big now, so it isn't as natural to pick her up and cuddle her. But she still needs lots of affirmation and physical affection. You didn't mention other children--but four year olds can feel especially "put out to pasture" when the cute baby or two year old is always stealing the show. You can make up for that by developing a new and special friendship. Treat her, in subtle ways, like a peer--sharing little secrets, doing "grown up" things together and then overtly telling her much you enjoy your time with her. Lots of warmth and reassurance about her place with you.

Never reward screaming. Ignore it. Walk away. At the very most, say, "I'm sorry. I can't understand you. When you're ready to talk to me, I'll listen." Even when others are watching, just calmly say this or ignore her all together. Or if she's truly causing a disturbance, take her to the car and read a book in the front seat while she screams. When she finds that she gets absolutely nowhere by screaming--no reward, no attention (negative or positive), no bribe or blackmail or negotiating, no power at all, she will stop. It may take a few days.

The combination of these two stategies should really help. At some quiet, close moment, you can talk to her about screaming. "Remember earlier today, when you didn't get another cookie and you screamed?" Teach her that babies scream because they can't talk. But people just talk. Teach her very specifically what to do when you tell her 'no'. Practice together--each taking the part of parent and child.

Any time that you see her doing it right (handling "no" correctly) stop everything and praise her. "Wow! That was so great! I know that you really wanted that toy but you didn't scream even a little bit!" etc., etc. All the attention and reward shifts to the positive behavior.

When you know what you're going to do, you don't have to get ruffled or emabarrassed. Just carry out your plan and when she calms down, smile, give a hug and say, "I'm glad you're happy now. Remember...we never scream."

Good luck!

With love,


Monday, March 15, 2010

How Do I Breathe?

The Questions:
Dear Jane,

My name is Natalie. It is 1040pm and I can't sleep as I reflect on my day with a 2 yr old, a 1 yr old and I am 20 days away from giving birth to our 3rd child. We struggled with infertility for 6 years and after 6 long years of waiting came a precious little girl by way of adoption, Whitney. Shortly after her birth we found out we were pregnant with our first biological child, Michael, who turns 1 this month. Having been told by my OBGYN that I still had about a 3% chance of getting pregnant after Michael, we found out we were pregnant with our 3rd child to be born this month. Whew!, I'm exhausted. I still totally and completely feel like a first time mom and when other moms with 3 children get together, I still feel like the "greenie" in the bunch to say the least.

A friend recommended your website and I read it with admiration for all the great advice, with wonder at what other moms are going through and with awe at the patience that everyone has for their children (or maybe it just sounds like that in writing.)

I have 3 questions for you along with a little background on each...

1. Like I said, it's 1040pm...I feel like this is the first time I have sighed a relief all both my kids are asleep, my husband is asleep and the baby is kicking away. I feel like I hold my breath in anticipation all day. My shoulders hurt from the stress and I don't feel relaxed at all. I'm sure my children can feel the stress, but I just don't know how to relieve it. My 2 yr old (i have been told) needs to be put in Montessori school for discipline. Apparently in nursery, she can't drink out of a cup and is more rambunctious than the others. I can attest to her energy as I feel it at home all day long. I just don't know what to say to others as I am clueless as to how to hone all this energy myself. She is a fireball. I am on my toes all day long, rarely sit (really!) and cannot prevent enough accidents and problems. For example...I have NOTHING below the 5 ft mark in my house, she can open sliding doors (those now have dowels in them that she knows how to remove), all bathrooms have 2 locks on them, everything is kid proofed 2x's, I can put ingredients for cookies on the counter and I turn away to help child #2 (still in the kitchen) or to go to the bathroom with the door open and she'll reach the butter, smear it all over the bookshelf and books, have it all over herself in less than a minute. We have no chairs out, we use folding chairs and put them in a closet after every meal even before getting her down from the table. I fear leaving the house and even have anxiety going over to other people's houses when I know their child isn't as "crazy" as mine or their house isn't child proofed. I only go to stores where they can both be strapped into the seat (mainly Costco and the grocery store with the double seats.) People comment all the time about what a crazy child I have and it's not like I sit at home and teach her to bounce off the walls. I RARELY give her sugar anything and cringe when other people do. It is SO stressful to not be able to turn my back for a second. I feel like this relays to my 1 yr old. He has just learned to walk and almost keep up with her and he gets so excited to follow her and get into whatever she is into. He is a lot more low-key but is a little "follower"...if she is doing it, he'll attempt it, but he would prob. not do the same thing on his own. I am at a loss of how to "control" or hone her energy. People ask if I do playdoh or crayons or activities with her at home and I would love to but the mess and the struggle I have with her is not worth the energy and exhaustion and the mess. She is very strong willed and has learned from somewhere (because this behavior isn't taught or displayed by my husband or I) to kick, hit, scream, throw herself on the ground, etc...I don't know how to stop it. We use time outs and an occasional spanking with her for bad behavior. Because she is so energetic, strong willed and a go-go-go child...I do A LOT of one-on-one quiet activities with her like reading books, singing songs, learning the alphabet and numbers, teaching her whispering games, etc. My husband and I are pretty active but not loud or crazy, so I know that a lot of this is nature not nuture. Oh, what to do, I am at a loss? Bottom line for this question do I take a breath during the day? How do I get to the end of my day without feeling like giving up? In hindsight EVERYDAY, I think, I should have been more patient, I should have tried this...but quite frankly, with a husband that has a job that is very demanding, I feel like a single parent and that I am doing the very best I can. As I am writing how crazy this is, I realize I am holding my breath...does it ever get easier?

2. With so many parents around knowing that I am a new parent with my hands very full, I often get caught in their trap when they comment on my rambunctious kids. I love my kids and as much energy as they have, I am EXTREMELY grateful for them, thank God every day for his blessings to us and I just cannot imagine not having them in my life. But when friends or neighbors or ward members see us chasing our kids around like chickens with our heads cut off and comment about our crazy existence, we often find ourselves caught up in the explanation and I often feel bad when leaving that I did not support or talk more positively about my children. For example, someone after sacrament meeting seeing BOTH OF US chase them around in the hall for the FULL HOUR...will say, how are you every going to do it with 3 this close? What are you going to do with that Whitney? or What are you guys thinking having kids this close? Birth control? or most of the time it's usually a negative comment about Whitney. Instead of not commenting or brushing it reply usually starts off with a sigh as I corral one of my kids or am battling them on my hip, etc. I just wish I left people with an impression that this was easier, or that I enjoyed it more...or that they didn't encourage the sigh or the craziness they see at the start of a conversation about how hard my life is, it only exacerbates the chaos. Hmmm...this is a tough one for me. How do I show the very best side of me and my children and let people know that I really did sign up for this (maybe not all at once but HF is the only one with that control) and let them walk away not thinking that I am not cut out for this or don't want this?

3. My husband was in the construction industry before the economy went south. He had a great job and we were doing well. He lost 2 management jobs last year due to the economy and because of this stress, we made the decision after some thought/prayer to change his career path. He is now in management at a financial institution, a very different direction than we had hoped and probably not where we want to stay long term. That said, to make ends meet he commutes 2 hours a day (1 hr 1 way) and works ON AVERAGE 10 hr days. Most days he leaves around 6am and doesn't get home until 7pm. He goes to school on Saturdays all day and some weekday evenings. Our main family time is on Sundays or when I keep the kids up late to see him during the work week. I really struggle with not complaining (esp around my kids even though they might not understand) and maybe the pregnancy makes it extra worse, but I feel like a "single parent." I often have the thought in the back of my head, "is this what I signed up for?" I really am having a hard time with no breaks, expressing my love all the time with my kids and being patient and always being on my "best mom behavior." I feel like with no down time at all (i only get a shower if I get up when my husband is getting ready at 5am and take one because the kids are not on the same nap schedule as hard as I try) I have many a sleepless nights wondering how to be a better mom when I feel so depleted and quite frankly at this young age where they don't really express gratitude a whole lot...very under appreciated. I know, I know...woe is me. I always said in the 6 yrs we were childless that I would never take being a parent for granted and I would always love my children and have the utmost patience with them and I would look at mom's yelling at their kids in the grocery store and say...never, no never would I do that. And then just a month ago...big and pregnant, in one of those race car grocery carts, Whitney grabs the 18 ct eggs from the cart in front (which is so hard to reach, btw) and she just starts chucking the eggs across the aisle, at people, at food on the shelves...she got to all the eggs before I could reach her and manage to grab them away from her. I have never seen a bigger display, struggle or mess in a grocery store EVER. And my I lost my temper...yep, in front of everyone. And that wasn't the worst of it...the worst part was trying to get someone to help me, as I wrangled a terrible two temper tantrum on a sticky gooey messy, egg-y kid and try to calm my other crying child who had been pelted with eggs from his car seat. Whew...once again...I find myself holding my breath as I write this.

Well, now that you've read this BOOK...I wonder what advice you have for a crazy, losing her mind mom of almost 3. I do realize that things seem worse with pregnancy hormones. But quite frankly, I rarely leave the house with these 2 and I hyperventilate wondering how I will EVER leave the house with 3! I told my parents since the ripe old babysitting age of 12 that I always wanted to have 10-12 aunt and uncle in Utah when we were growing up had 8 and I thought it was the funnest, most amazing family ever and I always wanted to be just like them. Now, on my 3rd, I wonder how I will go on to do mom's do this? Is it my personality that can't handle this many? Is it just so much change at once that it's brought me to needing to seek psychiatric help? Is it the lack of support from my husband right now in his career and life? I don't know. All I know is that my dreams of having a big family are quickly being dashed and I look forward to a day when my children will be able to appreciate all we are going through to get them here and hope that they won't be traumatized from the quickness of having them all at once and so close together. Any help or advice would be appreciated. I am on my knees quite often asking these questions to my HF...but thought I'd ask you too for I love the encouraging responses from other writers/readers.

I'm hoping there are other moms out there like me, surely I can't be all alone...I know our story is unusual but not unimaginable. People often compare our situation to triplets and I can't help but thinking that that would be easier...weird I know...but at least they are all on the same page at the same time...or at least I think they would be. Is the grass always greener on the other side? My book is done. I will leave these questions to your great minds to answer or ponder. Thanks for your time.

Holding my Breath,


The Answer:

Dear Natalie,

Before we talk about your life--which is extremely difficult right now--I want to tell you that I so appreciate your honesty and humility and your desire to be a good mother. You have a pure heart and I wish I could offer you what you really need--an assistant!

Your life is extremely challenging. You have a number of factors that make is so. I read through your letter several times and gave it a lot of thought and here's what I think. Yes, three children under 3 are challenging. An absent husband makes is doubly difficult. Financial worries add greatly to the stress. But I believe you could manage all of that if you could resolve your core problem--your 2 year old daughter. Her behavior causes you almost constant anxiety and embarrassment. Two-year-olds are known for their spunk and mischief but your daughter really seems to be taking it to a new level.

She is the person I'd like to focus on first, because I feel that if she becomes manageable, you will be able to ride out the rough year ahead. I'm wondering why she is so out of control. While you've given many good examples of her negative behavior, I'm not sure what is at the root of it. Was she a difficult baby? What are your feelings toward her? Does she connect at all or accept limits? Does she receive affection from you? I've thought a lot about what I would do in your position and this is what I think. I'd have her completely evaluated. Maybe she has some difficulties or problems that need attention. Discuss your concerns with a doctor that you trust and find out what he recommends. She was adopted and may have issues--genetic or in utero that need to be addressed.

Maybe you will find that she is just a very normal active 2 year old. If that's the case, then I would put my energy into forming a stronger connection with her and setting some simple, clear limits. It sounds like you've set up an environment (for your survival) that doesn't require her to control herself. You can help her to have tiny successes with self-control. Help her to feel competent and responsible even in small ways. Teach her continually. Teach her carefully how to drink from a cup, how to walk in a store, what things she may touch. Shower her with praise and physical affection. Don't just do things with her--build a bond of love. This process may seem exhausting, but it isn't half as exhausting as what you're dealing with now. You're spending all of your energy putting out her fires. Turn it around so you are in control and you're helping her to succeed.

She obviously needs great supervision. And this is not going to be an easy year for you. I've had a few of those "extreme years". But time passes. Your daughter will mature. Your husband will finish school and things will ease up. This is a year (or two) for hunkering down and giving your best. Your husband (and you) will find out what your made of. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says. Let them think what they will and stop letting that add to your stress. This is your life, your family. True, it isn't the calm, unruffled life you had two years ago. It isn't the tidy car and house. It's much more meaningful than that--and therefore, much more difficult. Your going to have to get up every morning and work harder than you've ever worked. But the work will be rewarding and even exciting if it's focused on teaching, loving and orchestrating small successes. Otherwise, your life is custodial and frustrating.

Now, from a practical standpoint-- recognizing that you are in a state of emergency (a year-long state of emergency) you need to do everything you can to equip yourself to weather it well.

List everything that is hard about your life and brainstorm with your husband and pray together to find solutions.

Discuss each child and develop some positive plans.

Discuss ways to become as organized and stream-lined as possible.

Figure out how you're going to get out once a week by yourself, how you can have time together, what you can do for each other that brings real comfort and relaxation.

Find some outside support. Do you have any family members that can come in regularly to help you for a while? Don't be afraid to ask church members or friends. You won't always need support but for the next little while, I think you really do.

It helps to realize that this "extreme time" will pass. This isn't forever. It's a year or two. I think of the early pioneers who signed up for a long, arduous trek so they could wind up in the middle of nowhere and build something out of nothing. They signed up for two or three very difficult years in the hopes that they were accomplishing something great and worthwhile. They were! And so are you. You can do this, so believe that you can. Each of your small efforts are moving you forward. That great family that you knew in Utah and wanted for yourself-- didn't become "fun and amazing" overnight. That family developed over years and years and was the result of endless teaching and enormous sacrifice by a father and a mother.

I know from experience that the Lord will make you equal to your life. I very much want your success.

With Love,


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Family Planning?

The Question:

I'll be celebrating my 29th birthday in a few weeks, and my new husband and I (married almost 6 months) are starting to plan for a family. We have both always wanted a large family, but I feel slightly discouraged that I may not be able to have that many kids, considering that my "fertile and safe" years may be slightly numbered as I exit my twenties. My question for you is, what is your opinion on family planning (more, rather than less) for someone who has around ten years to have kids? Am I even accurate in thinking that I have about ten years? I've just always heard that one's risk for birth defects and complications are much higher after forty. I've also heard that it is "unsafe" for a woman's body to space children less than 18 months apart. How would you approach the goal of bringing children to earth if you were in my situation and stage of life?

No matter what, I am simply eternally grateful to Heavenly Father that he guided my husband and me to be able to find each other. The twenties can be so lonely and discouraging when hoping for an eventual companion. Even if we have one child, however that happens, I will be that much more grateful to have the opportunity of being a mother.


The Answer:

Your question is a good one--and it gives me the chance to answer a few other questions I've received regarding family planning. "How do I know it's time to have a baby?" "How did you plan your family?"

My husband and I made the decision when we were married to let the children come. Even way back then, it wasn't the norm and we took some criticism as we pursued this rather "wreckless" course. But this was the church guideline at the time:

"We seriously regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity. Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by."

This, I think, is the guideline now:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many chldren to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter."

The first directive is a lot more "directive" and it's easy to see--in a world-wide church, why the counsel was modified over the years. Now the decision is entirely between a couple and the Lord. I truly respect every couple's right to make that choice. I don't try to impose my decision on anyone--even my own married children. The decision is enormous and is yours to make.

But I will share with you my thoughts and feelings and the reasons for my decisions.
For me, the core doctrine that inspired both of the above statements, is very clear. We have a purpose on the earth--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. My choice to bring a baby into my home insures that this little spirit will be nurtured, loved and taught--that they will each receive every ordinance they need. But more than that, they will begin a new generation that is solid and committed. Each child will stand at the head of their own generation and I have the privilege to prepare them for that.

In that first statement above, I really appreciate the last line--that those who limit their families "will reap disappointment by and by". Disappointment is the perfect word. Not punishment or condemnation--just disappointment at what we might have had, and chose not to. These are the thoughts that have motivated my choice to have all the children that I can.

In the process and through the years, I have been richly blessed for that decision. I have seen each child as a direct gift and blessing from God--not as an accident. I've approached the Lord with confidence for help with my children and I've been blessed with ideas, resources and even miracles. Raising a family "unto the Lord" has made me feel a very strong and deep connection to him and a sense of purpose and mission that gives meaning to my everyday life.

I didn't come at it super qualified. I was the youngest in a very spread out family--so I had little experience with babies or homemaking. But I was willing--and if you think about it, a "willing heart" has always been the Lord's only requirement. I just gave myself over to the process fully. Today, I can hardly read the scripture "He who loses his life shall find it" without feeling like it was written just for me. In layers and layers of ways, I have found joy and fulfillment as a person. I could fill a book with stories and examples of tiny and huge experiences with my children. And it's truly been a wonderful venture and partnership with my husband. Our children are our joy!

The church's current statement on the subject is your ultimate guideline and it's perfect. It allows for people to consider their abilities and situation. It allows for couples to make unified decisions and respects their agency. Dalin Oakes gave an excellent talk a few years ago on the subject. He said, "How many children should you have?....All you can." And that number, for many reasons, is different for everyone.

If I were turning 29 and had some years ahead, I would fill them up with children. But that's me. It will be exciting for you to discover what the Lord has in store for you.

With Love,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dealing with Loneliness?

The Question:

Thank you for your blog. I just discovered it yesterday and it was so wonderful to read. It gave some solid ideas of ways to deal with my kids and things to think about as I drifted off to sleep about being a mom. I have 5 children, ages 15 - 4. My husband travels quite a bit and so I am used to being on my own in terms of parenting. I enjoy reading to my kids and being the one to always be there when they need me.

My question is this - How do you deal with loneliness?

I am not close with my own family or my husbands. Our ward that we live in has so many wonderful people, but as my bishop states - it's a great ward for acquaintances, not good friendships. I don't want to go into details, because I will not whine. We live in a nice area and there are so many good people here. I wish I had a friend that had kids my own kids ages and that we could depend on each other. I always do my callings, try to serve when I see a need arise, volunteer at my kids school, try to listen more than talk, etc. But I guess one of my trials in this life is to deal with loneliness. My husband is wonderful and I love to talk to him. He is my best friend, but sometimes it would be nice to share experiences with someone who is of my own gender. My good friends from school days live far away. Heavenly Father has heard many prayers on the subject and he always sends comfort and peace. I hear and see so many families and friends enjoying themselves and their relationship and I feel envious of that closeness.

Thank you for faith and testimony. I love all your references to the scriptures and our Savior. I think that all our struggles can be answered through prayers and scriptures. I just haven't found the answer that brings me peace to this problem. If you have any suggestions, I would appreciate it.


The Answer:

Dear Amy,

Is anything harder than loneliness? I think we've all experienced it. We move to a new place. We are tied down with little children. Maybe we're naturally shy. Or as you mentioned, we aren't blessed with a warm circle of extended family. Whatever the reason, it's a difficult trial. And many, many people struggle with it. A friend I've known for years and go to church with every Sunday confided one day that she feels very lonely and isolated--like she is on the outside. I was truly surprised. She seemed to have lots of friends--but in her day to day life, she felt alone.

Another friend of mine taught me a serious lesson a few years ago. She moved into our ward and I'll tell you now that it's a wonderful ward but not the easiest one to break into. It seems like everyone is related to someone--families that extend in every direction. People don't move often so they have longstanding relationships. So my friend didn't wait around for people to reach out to her. She organized a play group, got a book club going, invited people over, called around and invited a bunch of families to meet at the park on a summer day--(just bring a lunch and come.) It was last minute but I was shocked at the turnout. It showed me that a lot of people were really needing to connect--and maybe just waiting for someone to invite them. And I was amazed that my friend took matters into her own hands and made sure that her own social needs were met--while blessing many others in the process.

One time I taught a lesson on an interesting way to write a personal history. Several people wanted to learn more so I offered to host a monthly class. We would meet at my house, have a potluck lunch and share samples of our writing with eachother. Imagine my shock when over 30 people showed up! I really don't believe that all those people wanted to write a history. No way. They wanted to connect! I believe this is the single greatest insight I can give you. You are not the only person who feels lonely. The majority of people around you struggle with this to some degree and no one will ever be offended by an invitation (unless, of course, it involves multi-level marketing).

This may be painful, but you're going to need to become proactive. Sign up for enrichment classes. Let it be known that you're looking for a scrapbooking friend or a walking partner or someone to help you paint a room. Invite a couple to go out with you and your husband or call some moms and meet at McDonald's for lunch. Think about something you'd be really comfortable instigating-- then do it! My friend Marvel went through a painful divorce and moved to a new place after 20 years of comfortable relationships. When I visited her a few short months later, I was surprised to find that she already loved her new ward. She explained that on her first Sunday there, she signed up for every possible thing--mid-week classes, taking in meals, cleaning the church--all with the goal of making friends. It worked.

My personal favorite thing to do is to invite two or three families over on a Friday night. I tell them to each bring a game and a snack. It's never awkward because it's a good size group and doing it almost always leads to natural friendships. I do it fairly often.

Also, be open to "unlikely" friendships. Some of my closest friends are 20 years younger than I am. My running partner couldn't be more different than I am. On the surface, we have very little common ground--but walking or running together every day, we've discovered all sorts of similarities and have learned a lot from eachother. Now that I think of it, some of my closest friends through the years have been exercise partners. That hour a day really makes for some serious bonding.

In a few years, your children will become excellent friends--they're my favorites ever. One of the great benefits of loving and respecting them while they're growing up, is that they don't have anything against you when they're grown! You have some purely good friendships.

Don't pray for friends--pray for ideas and then act on them. The Lord wants our hearts to be knit together and he will provide ways for that to happen.

With love,


Friday, March 5, 2010

Frustrating Preschooler?

The Question:

Hello Jane,

I just stumbled upon your blog by pure inspiration, truly! I have been reading it for the last 45 minutes and I already feel like I have learned a lot! Thank you! I do have a question though that I still feel unanswered after reading the section about disciplining with love. I am a "newer" mom. My oldest daughter is 3 1/2 and I also have a 1 1/2 year old son. Lately my daughter has been acting much like the woman who posted about her 7 year old (post title "Fostering Obedience"). I like what you answered but I still wonder how can I do unto someone as I would want done myself when they are 3 and don't comprehend what I am trying to teach? Where is the line where I stop cleaning her room for her because time after time, she lets me do it without helping and unless there is a fight, and doesn't seem to learn or appreciate what I am doing?

Here is an example, today she wanted some juice. I clearly told her, you may have 1 cup of juice, and if you are still thirsty you may have water after that. After she drinks her juice, she asks for more juice. She knows I will say no, but asks regardless. I tell her to, and offer her water. To no avail, she started crying. I got down on her level and explained what I told her already and to please make a good choice and just say "ok mommy." Instead, she just repeats "But I just want one more cup of juice! I dont want water!" she cried and cried so hard that she got to the point where she gets beyond any point where I can even reason with her, and I end up having to just send her to her room until she is done crying. Most of the time she just cries herself to sleep, repeating over and over "But I just wanted more juice!"

I believe in being firm and consistent, which is why I don't tolerate this behavior, but I feel like she just isn't learning. I always go in after and tell her I love her and ask if she understands why she was in her room, and we talk about it. I rarely raise my voice, and she still acts out like this. Lots of times, the fight will start all over again, because she won't agree or say she understands and just pleads her case again that she just wanted more juice!, and by the way, this is a new thing, which is why I am so beside myself on what to do. This week has been awful, and she has cried for hours each day over little things that we are usually able to work through together. Usually, she is a good listener and doesn't throw tantrums, etc.

So, back to the golden rule. As a 3 year old, how do I teach her how I would want to be treated when we are at such different levels of life understanding? Where is the line of loving or being a pushover and giving them whatever they want? Whatever I am doing, it does not seem to be working, as every day this week has been crying tantrums, and time outs, toys taken away, all after lovingly giving her chance after chance to make a better choice? Help with a 3 year old mind please!!!


The Answer: Relax and Enjoy

Dear Leslie,

I appreciated your letter. Your daughter sounds like a very strong-willed and determined child. That type of determination can really blossom into greatness later on. I've raised a wide assortment of personality types and I have the wonderful advantage of having seen how the determined three year old turns out. They are a challenge to raise, but they know how to get things done!

Try hard to avoid all-out power struggles. They are destructive to your relationship and no one really wins. The word "avoid" is at the heart of the issue. Some parents almost welcome the power struggle and bring it on as a way of establishing their authority. They view parenting kind of like breaking a horse--"Once they know who's boss, they'll submit." Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. I believe children who are forced to submit, store up anger and often in their teen-age years it comes out in the form of rebellion. On the other hand, you don't tiptoe around your children trying not to rock the boat. You carefully choose the areas where you must put your foot down and then do it clearly. It sounds like you’ve been a very clear and consistent parent. But what happens when, even though a power struggle is the last thing you want, things always seems to escalate that way? I have some thoughts.

As you know, I've raised (and am still raising) a big family. I sometimes think the thing that made it easier, is that I didn't have the luxury of micro-managing my children. Their life was fairly loose. I don't remember even caring how much juice they drank. They were around five before I expected them to clean a whole room. They liked doing jobs because I didn't demand much. Later, as their attention span lengthened and their maturity increased, it was easy to teach them. Most of my interaction with them in the early years was positive and I made relatively few demands. Because there wasn't much to "push back" against, there weren't many tantrums. When there were, it was usually because they were tired or hungry or just "needy" for my attention.

I read once about an Amish community where parents just enjoy their little children and let them play outside and give them few responsibilities until they are school-age. Then they teach them chores and expect them to contribute. I like that. It gives me permission to do what I want to do--enjoy my children. I especially love 3-year-olds. I love to listen to the ingenious way that they put words together. It's so fun to teach them new things. I love how they light up. Just relax and know that her life will be loaded with 75 years of worry and responsibility, and so for the first three or four, you can let her thrive in an environment of love and acceptance. Just lower your expectations a little bit and know that maturity will solve a myriad of problems.

Let me share a personal example that illustrates my philosophy. Several years ago, my then 3-year-old daughter Marielle and I were invited to participate in a play group. We rotated houses. The host mom would provide a snack and the children were allowed to play—largely unbothered by us-- while the moms talked. I loved this play group! Marielle loved it too. No one even talked about rules. We solved the occasional conflict—but, overall, things were pleasant and nurturing (for both or us!) We loved Wednesday mornings. So I was excited a few years later when my little son Peter and I were invited to participate in another play group. This one turned out to be very different. There were craft projects, snack time, learning time and rules aplenty. Soon Peter decided it wasn’t for him. He didn’t misbehave there. But it seemed stressful for all the moms—worrying about their children’s performance and behavior every minute. It was an entirely different experience. No joy for either of us.

Peter’s in second grade and a great student who never struggles with structure. He likes it now.

In a broader sense, this describes my philosophy about early childhood. The focus is not so much on rules and structure as on gentle teaching, nurturing and enjoying. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of preschool—but that topic is for another day.

I can tell that you’re an excellent mom. I give you permission to just be mediocre (just kidding). But just slow down and enjoy her. Your days together are numbered.

All my love,

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Disrespectful 11-year-old?

The Question:
Dear Jane-

I have an 11 1/2 year old daughter who has a nasty temper. She gets upset when we ask her to do simple things like brushing her teeth all the way up to completing her chores. When she doesn't get her way, she tends to take it out on her 3 younger siblings by hurting them, yelling at them, or anything else she can think of. She also takes it out on her father and I. Sadly, the terms "I hate you" and "You are the meanest parent ever" are common place in my home. She has no respect for my husband or I.

I have tried dealing with the situation every way that I can...nothing I do seems to work. Thinking that she needed special one on one attention, I've taken her out for one on one mother daughter time, I've treated her to special things. My husband has done these same things but they haven't worked. On the flip side, we have grounded her, put her in time out, made her skip out on doing things she really wanted to. Once again, these things have not worked. She tells us she is sorry but 5 minutes later, she is back to her old ways.

The worst part is that I am starting to see her siblings exhibit some of her behavior problems as well. I feel like a horrible parent because I didn't start teaching them a lot of the things I should have when they were young. Now that they are getting older, I see what that lack of teaching has done and it really bothers me. How can I teach my child(ren) to not only respect her parents but to do as she is asked without throwing a fit every time?

Thank You-

The Answer:
Dear Patti,
I have thought long and hard about your situation.  In some ways, I am at a loss.  As you know, I'm not a professional and my expertise in this area (and many others) is limited to my own experience.  One thing I've always known about myself is that I am much better at preventing problems than solving them.   So, truthfully, I haven't experienced what you're going through. 
But I can tell you what I would do if I did. 
My world would grind to a halt until I reconstructed my relationship with my daughter.  I would make her my focus.  It is going to take much more than regular nights out and treats.   You are going to need to start at the foundation and ask yourself the hard questions.   Why is she so angry?  What is she really feeling inside?   What are your true feelings toward her?  I suspect that you don't like her very much right now.  Who would?  She's destroying the harmony in your home.  But if, fundamentally, she doesn't feel your love, she will contiue to make your life a nightmare. 

Deep feelings of being loved and accepted are the feelings that heal.  You will need to go deep.
Perhaps it may involve counseling.  A third party might be able to help you see the dynamics that have brought you to this point.  Prayer and fasting are powerful tools--if you're asking the right questions.  Not "please help her to change", but "help me to deeply love this girl and help her to feel it."   Approach the whole situation with the humble attitude that you expressed in your letter--the realization that there are things you might have done better and the desire to repair the breech in this precious relationship.  
You can make all kinds of rules about the things she can and can't say to you, about her treatment of siblings, about obedience.  But these rules will never hold up as she grows older.  You want her to treat you with respect because she respects you.  You want her to obey you because she wants to.  This, I truly believe, only happens when a child feels genuinely loved and cared for--and that her feelings are important to you.  Buying her things and taking her places are just soap bubbles.  They're gone in a few minutes.   Laying next to her on her bed, looking at her, playing with her hair, being in no hurry, listening without lecturing til true feelings start to come out--investing in this bond for as long as it takes.   She won't respond over night, but as she sees that you love her and you mean it, she'll begin to give back.
She is still young.  But if you keep doing what you're doing, she'll keep doing what she's doing and things will unravel.  Now is the time to turn the tide. 
I really did appreciate your letter.  You are probably doing many good things in your home.  I only got a slice of the negative.   Take the holy spirit as your guide and work with your husband as you face this challenge.  The rewards are inestimable.
With love,

Our First Question For YOU (potty training)

SO...We received this question and my mom doesn't have any experience with this particular problem with potty training.  I (Natalie) am experiencing this exact same problem RIGHT NOW with my 3 year old, and am completely at a loss.  Do you have any advice?  Help us out, please!

The Question:

Ok, my question has to do with potty training... My oldest son turned 3 in December, and we are working with him on using the potty.  We informally approached the issue for several months, and after he seemed comfortable with the potty and had been successful in using it at times, I just committed to underwear for him and only use diapers at night (though he usually wakes up dry anyway).  So far it has been two weeks, and he has been doing great!  He hasn't had a single pee accident, even going to church and friend's houses.  I still have to take him potty throughout the day though.  I am assuming (and hoping) that he will eventually tell me needs to go, and progress up to being able to take himself!  The biggest issue we are having is with him going poop on the potty.  In these two weeks of underwear and wonderful pee success, he hasn't pooped on the potty a single time. So, that leaves me cleaning it out of his underwear every day.  He will not tell me when he feels like he needs to go, and if I suggest he try, he refuses.  We use a sticker chart for the pee, and have discussed his reward for pooping (a new train!) which he is excited about, but still just won't try to do it.  He usually hides in his room and poops when I am pre-occupied (ie. laying the baby down for an afternoon nap) so I continually seem to miss the window of opportunity to take him.  On days that I take him and encourage him to try often, he will just hold it until the next day.  I don't want this to turn into a long term battle with him, because he has the tendency to be strong willed and dig in his heels about things he doesn't like to do (ie. PICKY eater!).  So... long story short, do you have any advice for lovingly helping him to learn this skill?  Or do I completely ignore it and one day he will just want to poop on the potty himself?