There is something about caring for children alongside someone else that really highlights your differences. Whether it’s friends, your mother-in-law or your partner, you never really know someone until you share the care of children. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes not. But we discover things we didn’t know (about others and ourselves) when we are parenting as a team.
It might be that you and your partner have radically different parenting styles. It might be that you are co-parenting across the divide of divorce or separation. Or you may be a single parent who relies on friends or family members for support. But understanding who is in your parenting team and finding ways to work with them is crucial.
It’s easy to see when other people are getting parenting ‘wrong’. Usually, this means that they are doing things differently from how you would do it. Or in a way that contradicts your personal values. But (extreme harm aside), there really is no single correct way to parent in any given parenting situation. Within that sweet zone of warmth + boundaries, there is a lot of wriggle room. And a lot of judgement calls to make. Continue reading →
Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you can be a real challenge. Reading children’s books about divorce and separation can really help by introducing new ideas to little ones and normalising new living arrangements.
Snuggling up with a book is a good way to broach the difficult emotions that can come with family changes. It gives children a chance to ask questions and raise issues indirectly using the book’s characters. And it can reinforce key messages about children still being loved and not being at fault despite any big changes.
There are lots of children’s books about divorce and separation out there, so do have a good browse to find ones that will suit your family best. Here are a few of my favourites for children aged 2-7 years. Continue reading →
Modern fatherhood means being hands on in all aspects of practical childcare but also connecting emotionally with children. That’s the conclusion from the Modern Fatherhood Survey run by the Positive Parenting Project. The survey looked at the range of parenting tasks today’s dads undertake and how modern fatherhood differs from previous generations.
The key picture that emerged was a shift towards more equally shared parenting tasks and a breakdown of traditional divisions in Mum/Dad roles. “Dads are more involved than previous generations with more mothers returning to their careers. Dads have a clearer understanding on their role in the child’s emotional development as well as the physical side,” was how one dad summed up changes in modern fatherhood.
A recurring theme was how modern dads see practical childcare tasks and household chores as an integral part of their role as a fathers. But dads also aspire to a relationship with their children which involves playing and listening and which is loving and nurturing.
“fathers are much more involved in raising their children, more emotionally open and available for their children, less authoritarian and more aware that respect is earned not deserved… more willing to allow their children to be themselves… more willing to admit they’re wrong and to apologise”
Being a step-parent means occupying a unique place in a child’s life. Every step-parenting situation is different and there are no exact rules on how to get it right. Lots of step-parents experience contradictory emotions about their role, and that’s ok. There will be times when things go well and times when things go badly. Here are a few step-parenting tips to keep you going forward, no matter what.
Have realistic expectations
Step-parenting and blended families can be very messy. There are lots of people involved, all with their own needs and sensitivities and all carrying their own hurts and trigger points. So expect lots of bumps. Forget about the fairy tales and be pragmatic. Nothing about parenting is ever perfect, and for step-parenting that’s one hundred times more true!
Take it slowly. Allow the relationships to develop slowly. Don’t expect your step-children to love you (or even like you!) to start with. Keep trying to find ways to connect but understand that those bonds will take time to grow. You can’t make them happen. Continue reading →
Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.
Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change: Continue reading →
How are we going to tell the children? What are we going to tell the children? When are we going to tell the children? Believe me, I wish I had a script I could give you that answered those questions. Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you is a real challenge.
Having been on both sides of that conversation – as both a child and an adult – I do know that in the grand scheme of things there isn’t usually one conversation that makes the difference. Parents often focus on the initial ‘breaking the news’ moment but, in reality, it takes time for news to sink in and questions to rise and helping children through divorce or separation usually involves returning again and again to the same themes and issues and repeating the same messages until a new consistency is gradually established. Continue reading →
When it comes to children, no two parents in the history of this planet have ever had exactly the same approach to parenting. This is hardly surprising since co-parents have (by law!) grown up in different families and have had different experiences of being parented. Parenting style is seldom the critical factor in deciding who we fall in love with – and many of us are attracted to our opposites. So when parents disagree about parenting (to some degree or another), it’s just par for the course.
Having delivered parenting courses for many years now, it is a rare workshop where I don’t hear the words “The problem is my husband/wife/ex-partner/mother-in-law. How can I get him/her to parent differently?” When parents disagree about the right way to bring up children, it is invariably the other person who is doing it wrong!
Telling someone they are parenting all wrong is a conversation that is unlikely to go well. And since there isn’t only one correct way to parent, it will invariably provoke confrontation and negative emotions rather than constructive problem solving. But when parents disagree about parenting, there are ways to talk about the issues in a more helpful way. Here are a few tips to help keep parenting discussions child-centred and positive. Continue reading →
Introducing a new partner to your children can be daunting: there are life-changing implications for all involved. But it is a bridge that more and more parents and children (and new partners) have to cross.
It doesn’t help that fairy tales are full of wicked step-mothers and the TV is peppered with abusive step-fathers. Talk to a room full of parents and you will hear a wide range of experiences, from heart-warming accounts of blended families that have brought love and value to every family member’s life, to long-term estrangements, rifts and rejection.
When it comes to introducing a new partner to your children, there is no guaranteed way to ensure a smooth ride. But follow these tips and the chances of it working out will be greatly increased. Continue reading →
Change can be very stressful, even when it’s positive. Children thrive on predictability and routine, so helping children cope with change can be a real challenge. Even positive emotions (like excitement) can be overwhelming in large doses for children – just think how frequently the birthday girl or boy ends up in tears before, during or after the party!
Some changes (such as starting a new school, moving house or introducing a new baby or a new partner) we can see coming. Others come out of the blue. Helping children cope with change in a positive way can help set them up for greater resilience and adaptability in the future. We’d love to wrap our children up in cotton wool and protect them from life’s knocks, but we can’t. And we wouldn’t be doing them any favours if we could.
Helping children cope with change by teaching them coping skills equips them to deal with life and manage it’s ups, downs, and sudden jolts. Here’s a few ideas on how to do it. Continue reading →