The holiday season seems to come upon us earlier and earlier each year. Even before Thanksgiving, I started to notice all of the signs — colorful lights strung in front of houses, a glimpse of lit trees through windows and cheerful holiday tunes on the radio. Along with the high spirits the holiday season, a package of stress often arrives. This is especially true for divorced couples that struggle over how to make plans that optimize the holidays for themselves and, of course, their children — who want nothing more than normality. Read more
I am a psychologist who works with adults, who are often very high achievers. So when I am asked if I see children in my practice, my routine tongue-in-cheek quip is, “only those in adult bodies.” More seriously, I’ve seen an extremely wide range of parenting results over my 38 years of clinical practice, ranging from outstanding to criminally horrific. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but many parents either don’t realize or forget that the quality of the parenting we give our children is one of the crucial factors for determining how they will function throughout their entire lives.
The term “helicopter parent” is a relatively new one in our culture, but the practice is quite prevalent. When a child leaves home (for college, for instance, or even overnight camp) the helicopter parent does exactly what the term implies —hovers. Helicopter parents usually have the best intentions– to protect their children from life’s hardships and prepare them for adulthood— but as with many other aspects of parenting, the results don’t always match the intentions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself “hovering”, here are a few common mistakes to be aware of and what you might want to consider instead:
Mistake 1:Being in constant communication-Children get their own cell phones at younger ages every year. While cell phones are great for safety purposes, they make it possible for parents to be in continual contact with their child. Psychologist Dr. Steven Sussman has even referred to the cell phone as “the world’s longest umbilical cord.” When your young adult child goes off to college, it’s easier than ever for you to stay in touch—all the time. But is this a good thing? And it may certainly take on a life of its on when your child calls you to discuss what to eat at the next meal or even uses you as a surrogate alarm clock, with a daily wake-up call. Instead, limit routine communication to a specific time of day. Maybe you and your son or daughter can schedule a time to speak on the phone each evening or a few specified evenings each week. This way, he or she can have the opportunity to try to solve problems on his or her own instead of immediately reaching out to you for the answers.
Mistake 2-Maintaining full financial control – It’s quite common for parents to continue to pay for things into adulthood that they began paying for when their child was much younger. For example, many young adults are still on their family cell phone plans and car insurance, and usually let their parents foot the bill for meals out and family vacations. However, while remaining a safety net, you also may want to allow them to have some “skin in the game”, in order to learn financial responsibility. This means setting firm limits and establishing a clear policy concerning credit cards and other financial matters. As an invaluable preparation for adulthood, gradually hand over small financial obligations, in order to transition him or her to become a financially responsible adult.
Mistake 3-Parenting in a way that’s not age appropriate – Intuitively, it makes sense that adolescents need different parenting than infants or toddlers and young adults require different parenting than adolescents, but this change doesn’t always happen automatically. For example, it’s no longer necessary to punish and reward your children in the same way you did when they were younger. The best parenting is about giving guidance that’s age appropriate and that speaks to your child’s unique needs and stage of development. As your child becomes an adult your role as a parent will shift. For example, you can now become much less of a micromanager and disciplinarian, and more of a role model. Your child will now receive consequences from his or her own environment when poor choices are made, rather than you. This is a good thing. So relish your new role!
The bottom line is that as a parent your greatest responsibility to your young adult children is to help them develop the skills to make it on their own. By avoiding these mistakes, you’ve taken a giant step in the right direction toward enjoying the stage of life where you can savor your child functioning successfully as an independent adult!
In my recent article, I discussed some of the common myths that often hold parents back from doing what it takes to help their adult children to launch into independence. Some parents who are still caring for their children as well as their own aging parents are part of what is sometimes referred to as the sandwich generation. Such a situation often comes with various emotional and financial challenges, as modern medicine allows people to live longer, while young adults have a harder time finding jobs. So this scenario is a trend that is likely to continue.
In my experience with helping clients who are caring for their elderly parents, I’ve noticed that they often have a very difficult time staying motivated. In this situation, the best reward you can hope for is normally an intrinsic or internal one, as caring for both your children and parents can be quite stressful for anyone. If this speaks to you, here are 3 ways to make your role in the sandwich a better and less stressful experience:
Set boundaries with both your children and parents. You can’t always jump when someone has a need or a request. Even if you’d like to accommodate everyone, ask yourself if a given request is reasonable or if it’s at the expense of your own well-being. You can help others best when you are helping yourself first, so don’t neglect your own needs because you’re busy caring for others or even worse —beat yourself up over guilt.
Another way to make the experience a better one is to clarify your attitude about the very roles you’ve taken on. If you think of it as a burden, you’re likely to find the experience fatiguing and overwhelming. Instead, allow yourself to focus on the opportunity to strengthen and complete your relationship with your parents while you still have the chance. Though sometimes the needs of your elderly parent can be excessive, the other side of the coin is gratitude for having your parent in your life. Then, you can see the situation in a different light. This will go a long way toward transcending any need you have for positive reinforcement.
Finally, think about what you’d like your children to learn by your experience. Your children may be likely to base their own attitudes on caring for you later in your life on the way they’ve watched you handle your parents. So what is that learning experience you’d like to pass on to your children? Think of this as just one more of life’s what comes around goes around moments.
For some couples, the decision to have children is something that was discussed long before marriage—in some cases; I am told, on the first or second date ! But for many couples, deciding whether or not to have children can be one of their most daunting issues. With couples getting married later and women much more likely to have career dilemmas, the choice of whether or not to have children is often more urgent, since there’s so often a smaller window of time when women can safely conceive. Because this is one of life’s few decisions that is irreversible, it’s one that cannot be taken lightly or be made with haste.
The argument for parenthood is in many ways obvious: Parenthood can be infinitely and intrinsically rewarding on countless levels. There is no bond quite like that between a parent and child. And the experience of parenthood allows you to give in ways that are unique to this special relationship. Having children can also create a special bond between you and your partner as co-parents and ultimately lead to the incomparable joy of having grandchildren later on. It also allows you to see the world again through your child’s eyes, which can be extremely fulfilling—even when your children become adults.
Raising a child is also an enormous task; and its intensity cannot truly be imagined until it’s experienced. Every aspect of your life will change when you have a child and parenting will account for much of your time. There are years when it may even define you!
However, exploring and discussing the question of whether or not to have children can bring your deepest values, joys and fears to the surface. Here are some of the most common things to consider if you’re on the fence:
It’s not about you and your friends-The decision of whether or not to have a child needs to be made solely by you and your partner! Yet the pressure—real or perceived— from others can cloud your own thinking about this. Don’t let the desire to maintain your friendships by ensuring you are in similar lifestyles, be a factor in making the best decision for you and your partner. Make sure you and your partner ask yourselves, “Why do we really want children?”
It’s also not your parents’ decision-Many couples are or at least feel pressured by their parents who want grandchildren. Your parents may want grandchildren and be disappointed if they don’t have them, but they’re not entitled to grandchildren. Conceiving out of guilt is not going to serve anyone in the long run. Ask yourselves “Are we ready to make parenting our top priority and what sacrifices are we specifically ready and willing to make?”
A child will not save an ailing marriage- A common myth that I’ve heard many times is that having children will save or improve a dysfunctional or unfulfilling marriage; but nothing can be further from the truth. Children can sometimes strain and test the endurance of even the best relationships. Ask yourselves, “Can our relationship withstand the realities of having less freedom and private time together?” And perhaps ask yourself in the privacy of your own mind, “If we were unable to have kids or chose not to have them, am I still in a relationship with the person I want to grow old with?”
If you’re still not sure, the best advice is to work on this crucially important decision until you are less ambivalent. I also offer more guidance and some case studies on this subject in my book The Art of Staying Together. Bottom line: Having a child—when it’s what you and your partner truly want and have a loving home to provide—could be the most meaningful aspect of your life and the best contribution to the world that you can leave behind. But go into it with your eyes open.
Divorce is never a simple matter logistically or emotionally. And when there are children involved, often the hardest part is to put your own emotional issues aside in order to do some very difficult parenting feats . Here are some ways to help your children get through this crisis as painlessly as possible:
It all starts with communication-Telling your children about your upcoming divorce may be one of the most challenging things that you’ll ever do. Stick to what’s relevant to them. Some children may react with anger, disbelief and/or sadness; while others will react with relief. This depends on how they experience the climate at home and both of their parents—together and separately—during this era of time. If possible, make it a point for you and your spouse together and calmly to talk to each child separately. This will enable you to speak to your kids at an age appropriate level. In other words, your kindergartener and your pre-teen need things to be explained differently. The most important thing to communicate is that your child is in no way, shape, or form responsible for the breakup or any of the turmoil associated with it. Just as you may experience some loneliness once the initial shock of your divorce has subsided, even if you are the one initiating the divorce, your child may experience guilt from an irrational belief that somehow he or she is to blame. So as difficult as it may be, please put your own needs aside and be as reassuring and nurturing as possible.
Keep the kids out of it-Children can easily be swept up into their parents’ conflict during divorce, especially with things like custody battles. I can think of nothing more destructive to do to a child as to use them like weapons against your spouse. Children, who become as pawns in battles between their parents, often hold deep resentment toward both of you; and this can result in permanent consequences that are likely affect their own relationships later on. Try your best to come to a civil agreement about how to effectively co-parent and split time with them as well as any other issues regarding your children.
Keep things stable-Resolve to keep life as normal as possible and with a reliable schedule of visitation with the non-custodial parent. It’s not the quantity of time you spend with the child, but the quality and consistency. It’s important for your child always to know when they will next see the parent they don’t live with and how to get in touch with them in between visits. Both parents need be available, even when they aren’t physically present.
It’s a tall order, but focus on making your divorce as painless for the kids as possible. Each child will react in his or her way. For some, it will be much less traumatic, while for others—who experience your divorce as their entire world coming apart— some counseling may be necessary to get them through the crisis. But there is no better time to be mindful of loving them unconditionally and making sure they know that you are always available to discuss whatever is on their mind, regardless of your relationship with your (soon to be ex) spouse. More tips and strategies can be found in my book, Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go.