Category Archives: Parenting

coparenting with ex

How Do You Coparent When You Don’t Get Along?

Divorced parents, who don’t get along, are always asking me how they are supposed to coparent when they are always fighting? The truth is, they can’t. If you can’t get along and are always being harsh or disgruntled with each other, you can’t successfully co-parent. 

You have to make a choice. One parent can take primary custody of the kids and end the co-parenting relationship altogether, or you can decide to make a change. Together the two of you can make the decision to be civil with each other, to be kind, to communicate effectively and calmly because you have to. You have kids that need their parents. Constantly putting them in a toxic environment or bad-mouthing each other in front of your kids, is not helping them. In fact, it is doing the very opposite.

Shift In Dynamics

Someone in the relationship has to start this shift in dynamics. One of you has to make the choice to keep your mouth shut for the sake of your children. Ok, so you don’t agree with your ex’s behaviors, personal choices, or whatever it is that irks you but I am sure you can agree on one all-important thing: You love your kids. You want the best for your kids. 

Your kids need to be in a positive environment. They need to be raised in a place where they feel loved, safe, and comfortable turning to either parent in times of need. As a parent, you need to help guide your children in making the best decisions and you need to set an example. If your children are always seeing you and their father and/or mother arguing, name calling, being verbally abusive, or talking bad about each other behind the others back, you are teaching them that this behavior is ok. And, your child is likely going to experience more feelings of anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. They will likely withdraw from both of you because they don’t feel safe and secure with you. 

Best for your Child(ren)

You decide. But, the answer is simple. You have to get along with your ex in some capacity in order to raise your children in a healthy environment. To do what is best for them, you need to get past your differences. If you can’t, then it is time to decide who your children should be with. 

Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help you to determine the best course of action for you and your kids. 

undermining

Ask Mabel: How do I communicate with my husband in front of our kids without undermining him?

Dear Mabel, 

I am reaching out to you again for your guidance and support. I have an issue with my husband and the way he addresses our children when he is angry. He can get to the point where he looks and speaks very terrifyingly at them, and my heart just breaks. They are fearful and he drowns himself in shame afterward. This morning he was yelling at my six-year-old daughter and she was dysregulating in all kinds of ways as a result, which was pushing him even further into his anger. I felt compelled to jump in and protect her, which often results in him feeling betrayed by me and upset that I am making him a “monster” in front of the kids. 

Today we were able to talk afterward and I told him that I feel like I need to protect them and his feelings when I intervene because I am in flight-or-fight mode myself. It is usually very hard. I am stuck. What language can I use in these moments to communicate that he needs to stop without undermining him in front of the kids? This is a heavy day for our family. 

Sincerely, Amy from Florida

Mabel: Hi Amy, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. There are a few ways you can approach this situation. You can have a family meeting when calm, where you all make an agreement that when things escalate you each are empowered to call a time out and take a break. Make a plan that you can all follow. If you are all following the same plan together that would take the shame out of it. I also suggest you look at the Zones of Regulation curriculum for some help on the language for self-regulation and emotional control. 

Together, you two can come up with a plan, or code word, for timing out and determine how long the timeout should last. Come up with something you can both agree on. Determine what you can do when he is in that state to deescalate the situation. 

This is a quick bandaid. Long term, you need to have a discussion about what he wants to do about this and go from there. Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a team in these situations.

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

Help yourself and your kids by managing anxiety

Anxiety is a very real thing that many of us face. It can be so easy to get overcome with emotions, feel overwhelmed by the day’s events, and get frustrated. Next thing you know you are lashing out at your children. Yelling at them for things that aren’t really their fault. We have all done it. But for those with anxiety, these occurrences can get more and more frequent, passing on your anxiety to your children. 

If this sounds like you, first of all — take a breath. You are not alone. There are healthy ways to deal with your anxiety so that you aren’t passing it on to your children.

Healthy Coping

Here are some things to get you started:

1.) Take notice — Before you can make any changes you have to recognize where changes need to be made. Pay attention to the way you are reacting to things. How are you speaking to your kids? What do their faces look like when you talk to them this way? How are you feeling internally? What led up to this instance? Recognize it, so you can alter your behavior. 

2.)Take a break — When you realize you are feeling overwhelmed, stop what you are doing. Take a moment to look around and examine what you are doing, what is making you feel overwhelmed? Remind yourself of your reality. Bring yourself back to earth. If it is an ongoing thing, then take the time for yourself to get done what you need so that you can regain calm. 

3.) Alter Your Schedule — If you are seeing a pattern of anxious feelings, maybe it’s during deadline week at work or maybe it is during a certain time of the day, then make the necessary changes in order to feel relaxed. Get up a few hours early to get things done. Go to bed earlier. Plan ahead of time. Whatever works best for you in order to feel like you are in control of your time. 

4.) Learn Stress Management — Healthy stress management is not always known. Instead, we tend to turn to things like alcohol or eating which can increase our anxious feelings. Instead try breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, reducing your workload, etc. 

A licensed professional can help you to recognize and conquer these anxious feelings so that you are not passing them on to your children. Your children are hyperaware. They turn to you for guidance. Be a good example. Learn healthy coping mechanisms. 

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy After Baby

Let’s be realistic. Having a baby can be a wonderful thing for a relationship but it does not leave any relationship unchanged. Babies are a huge life transition for anyone, which comes with a lot of challenges (and joys). 

In order to keep your relationship healthy post-baby:

1.) Change your expectations — Don’t try to go back to the way your relationship was before you had a child. It is not going to be the same because now you have another to care for, another to share your time with, and another to support. Your relationship will change and in many cases grow even deeper than it was before. 

2.) Communicate — As with any relationship, communication is key. But even more so during times of big transitions, you need to be honest and open. Talk to your partner about your needs, your desires, your struggles, etc. You can’t help each other through these times if you don’t know what each other is dealing with. 

3.) Schedule alone time — Yes, you have this new life to care for but don’t forget about your need to bond with your spouse. Even more so now date nights (even if they are at home on your couch while your child sleeps in the next room) are of crucial importance. You need time together.

4.) Give each other a break — Support each other during this transition time. There will be ups and downs and you both will need breaks. For mom, that might mean a good nights sleep, some girl time, or a massage. For dad, that might mean time for hobbies that they love and no longer have as many hours to give to them. 

5.) Have Patience — This time is going to be hard for you both, in different ways. There will be days when you feel angry or frustrated with each other. There will be days when you are so exhausted you can’t even think straight. Cut each other some slack. It won’t be like this forever. Recognize this is a rough patch and you will figure it out. 

Having a baby is a beautiful thing but few couples realize the complete life-altering impact of creating a family until they are in it. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to struggle a bit with this transition. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not lose sight of what really matters. You love each other and this new addition to your family, and your child needs parents who care for each other and support each other. Talk it out and remember you are on the same team. 

Ask Mabel: I feel bad about the thoughts I have regarding my children because of my postpartum psychosis

Dear Mabel,

I have decided that I need to see a therapist about my postpartum psychosis. I have been having bad thoughts about my babies. I would never hurt them but it makes me feel like a horrible mom for having these thoughts. I know therapy is a step in the right direction but is there also a medication that could help? I don’t know what to do but I know something needs to change. 

Sincerely, Erica from Missouri

The Courage To Speak Out

Mabel: Hi Erica, I commend you for your courage to speak out. I know that many moms who suffer from postpartum psychosis feel so horrible about their thoughts that they are embarrassed to address them. But, starting the conversation with a licensed therapist can help you heal and move forward in a positive direction. 

Postpartum psychosis is caused by the hormone fluctuations that occur during and after the birth of a child. These hormone changes can be major and they mess with the chemical makeup of our brains. In addition to negative thoughts, these changes can cause depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations, mania, and delusions. They usually start to occur in the first two weeks after childbirth. These things you are experiencing have a lot more to do with biology than your morale as a person. 

You are NOT a bad mom. The fact that you feel like a horrible mom means that you are exactly the opposite. You are a good person and a good mom for wanting to get help and make changes so that you don’t have these thoughts. 

I am proud of you for seeking help. There are medications that you are welcome to discuss with a health professional. Therapy will also benefit you and help you to heal.  

Summertime is the best time…for teens to get therapy

Summer is approaching us and that means kids are out of school. It means more fun in the sun, sports, vacations, and a break from the chaos that is the school year. And, while it might not be at the top of your radar—it is the best time for your teen to get therapy. 

Many parents think of therapy as a school year thing. They see their kids struggle with stress over school work and friend drama and they think about getting their kids help. And, while that is great, often times schedules get in the way and it seems impossible to add another thing your child’s roster. This is just one reason why summer is a great time to begin therapy. Your child will have the time to focus on making healthy choices and gaining the skills they need to get through stressful situations. 

Children and teens can use therapy to reflect on the past school year—what worked, what didn’t, where where the problems, the successes, etc. A licensed counselor can help to teach your child healthy coping mechanisms, skills, and routines that they can use in the upcoming school year. It is almost like getting new clothes and notebooks before that first day—your child can also stock up on healthy brain tools. 

Frequently, parents see many of the problems their teen struggles with dissipating during the summer months. But, that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. The child is momentarily separated from the situation, but those same problems will likely reemerge at the start of the school year. By getting ahead of problem situations before they arise, your child will be prepared to handle them before they become a real issue. Not to mention, you will be setting him/her/they up for a successful adulthood. 

If you have concerns or questions about getting your child started in therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed professional. He/she/they can answer your questions, ease your worries, and help you determine the best path for your child. 

Motherhood and Alcoholism: When is it a problem?

Alcohol has widely become “part” of motherhood as odd as that may seem. Our culture is normalizing this practice and minimizing its potential impact on moms and their families. There are social media groups and websites like “mommy needs vodka,” and “moms who need wine.”

As a mom myself it has become commonplace to hear “when is it too early to start drinking?” or “wine time.” There are many moms that turn to alcohol at the end of the day, or even the middle if it’s a “special occasion” (like Tommy using the potty for the first time). We use alcohol to celebrate the small victories, to numb our stressors, and to dispel boredom. Moms feel like they deserve that glass of wine at the end of the day, they should be allowed to do something for themselves, and while all of that is true — when does the drinking become a problem? 

This past weekend was Mother’s Day and while it is a time to honor moms and all that they do, it is also a time to recognize the need to care for our moms. Moms need to be well. They need to be healthy and happy to take care of their families and themselves. 

While there are many factors that can impact whether a person is a problem drinker — everything from past traumas to genetics to things become habitual, despite their health repercussions. As a society that is putting alcohol in the face of moms everywhere, maybe we should start to reassess. Do moms really “need” alcohol? No, they don’t. Do they deserve to treat themselves? Yes, of course, they do. But, everything needs to be done in moderation. 

Drinking becomes a problem when it is a core thought. If you are constantly watching the clock waiting for that magical time when it is socially accessible to pour that first glass of wine and then next thing you know the whole bottle is gone. We tend to laugh about it. “Oops, I finished the whole bottle.. oh well.” But, we need to be careful. We need to look for other ways to care for ourselves. 

Rather than making alcohol your nightly ritual, try meditation, yoga, a special TV show, talk with your spouse, a weekly night out with friends, something other than the bottle. Drinking feels like a special dessert, a treat. It feels harmless and normal. But it can easily get out of control. That glass can turn into a bottle, which can turn into a bottle a night and next thing you know you are feeling crappy all the time, you are having trouble caring for your kids, you are overrun with guilt, you are hiding it from your spouse, it can easily escalate. 

Being a mom is hard work, don’t get me wrong, and while alcohol can make it feel a little better for a moment it can easily lead to more problems. My advice to you is to reign it in, seek help from a licensed professional, and work to develop healthier coping mechanisms. You don’t need to feel guilty, or alone, in this battle. We are here. We can go forward together for a healthier you. 

How do you cope with motherhood?

What do you do if your child walks in on you?

Yup, I am going there. I am talking about sex. If you are a parent chances are you have, at least, had some close calls when it comes to your children getting too much of a personal view. So what do you do if your child walks in on you having intercourse? 

It can be an embarrassing and terrifying experience for both involved. It is a touchy subject that can evoke a range of emotions. But, it is healthy. So before you even begin to have the conversation cut yourself some slack. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with guilt or embarrassment and instead consider buying a lock for your bedroom door, take a breath, and clear the air with your child. 

As it goes with many highly emotional situations, your first instinct might not be the best so before you address the situation make sure to take a couple of minutes to gather yourself. Don’t assume your child saw everything. In many cases, the child likely didn’t see too much but probably still has some questions. Avoid going into too many of the juicy details and talk calmly to your child. Ask he/she/they if they have any questions about what they saw? Explain that you were having special time with your spouse—something that you do when you are an adult and in love. 

Young children likely don’t know what they saw, which makes it easier on the parents. If your child is out of preschool, however, they are smarter than you might realize. In that case, don’t gloss over the details. Be honest. It is better to address the situation head-on than to beat around the bush. 

Think about your child. Put yourself in their shoes. What do you think they are feeling? Confused? Embarrassed? Scared? Nervous? Draw on what your child already knows. If you have talked about this stuff before, start the conversation with “remember when we talked about..” 

Lastly make sure that you have the conversation in private, away from anyone that might make things more uncomfortable. Reassure your child that everything is ok, these behaviors are healthy and normal when done in a responsible way with someone you care deeply about, apologize to your child so that he/she/they knows they did nothing wrong. And, don’t wait for your child to come to you. They probably feel pretty shaken about the whole thing. Go to them and be open. 

It might feel like you have permanently scared your child but I assure you that is not the case. Be open and honest with them and things will blow over with ease. You will recover. 

Ask Mabel: How do I respond to my child, regarding her attitude, when she says ‘I was born like this?’

Hi Mabel, 

My child has had a real attitude problem lately and I don’t know how to approach it. She gets sassy with me and then responds, “I was born like this.” And I just freeze. What am I supposed to say to that?

Sincerely, Jen from Minnesota

Mabel: Hi Jen, sounds like a typical tween/teen problem. She is defending herself by saying that her attitude is just part of who she is, which we all know she has more control over than she is giving herself credit for. Next time she says this tell her that no one is born knowing how to talk. Talking is something that is learned over time and she can apparently talk pretty well now. Tell her that even though she may feel like she was born with something, she can always learn something else. 

What is changeable, and what is not…

There are things we are born with, those are things we cannot change such as skin color, height, etc. Talk with your child about what is changeable and what is not. Saying she is “born like this” is a cop out. It is her not being willing to try to improve, to learn manners, etc. It is laziness. Explain to her that it is always possible to change your ways. It is a good life lesson and hopefully will help ease up the attitude overtime. 

Good luck mama, and please know that you are not alone in this struggle. Raising any tween/teen is not easy. Just keep giving it your best shot and try not to get too down on yourself.