Tag: parenting tips (page 1 of 6)

The ultimate cheat sheet on teenagers: 7 things your teen wants you to know

Dear Wendy,

A few days ago, some friends and I were discussing the Dreaded Teen Years.


Teenzilla will eat your head for lunch. Then she will fail to clean up after herself. (Photo: A. Robert)

Once again I was struck by the terror in some parents’ voices as they contemplated their sweet little munchkin turning into Teenzilla—as though adolescence is an automatic ticket to histrionics, epic battles of will, and smelly laundry.

Okay, I’ll grant you the smelly laundry.

But seriously, I was puzzled. I know I sound like a prat when I say, “My kids were both great teens,” because so many people really have gone through the Teen Wars and have the emotional scars to prove it.

But I also know that it’s possible to minimize, if not completely avoid, screaming matches and angst during our kids’ teen years.

I’ve talked before about my basic parenting premise: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (Come on, baby boomers, you know this one—follow the bouncing ball!)


(Photo: Joris Louwes, via Flickr)

But today I thought I’d offer a cheat sheet for parents whose wee ones are about to enter adolescence…and for those who are currently hiding their heads under a pillow, sucking back wine and wishing the whole messy hormonal sturm und drang would just disappear already. Ready? Here goes:

  1. Teens want you to be proud of them. Seriously, they do. And by “proud,” I don’t mean you think they poop vanilla ice cream. That’s just delusional.
    No, they want to know that you think they’re good people. They want to now that you approve when they get it right, and that you’ll still love them when they mess up. They don’t need you to brag to your friends about them; they just want to know that you can see they’re doing the best they can.
  2. Teens want you to be straight with them. They don’t want you to lecture at them about sex or drugs, for example—they want you to give them the facts, without embellishment or exaggeration. They want to know they can come to you for information, and that you won’t freak out and enroll them in the nearest military college to scare them straight. Just the facts, ma’am.
  3. Teens want you to set a good example. Let’s face it: teens can smell hypocrisy a mile away. I remember Mum and Dad, both raging alcoholics, trying to tell my 16-year-old self that smoking marijuana would cause me to become a heroin addict and probably a prostitute. And I remember the contempt I felt for their booze-soaked words.
    And keep in mind: you might think your kid doesn’t notice when you break your own rules. Trust me. They notice.
  4. Teens want you to understand that the times have changed. Their worlds include texting, sexting, twerking, cyber-bullying, binge drinking, earlier and earlier sex…things you and I couldn’t have imagined back in the Disco Era. Yes, you were a teen once, and yes, some things don’t change. But trying to pretend you know what your kid is going through these days? Bad plan. Here’s my advice: don’t talk about your youth. Listen to theirs.
  5. Teens want you to set limits…but not too many. Here’s an exercise I used to use when I counseled families as a social worker: stand in the middle of a good-sized room. Close your eyes, and stretch your arms out. You can’t touch a wall…what does that feel like? Notice how your heart starts to beat a bit faster, your breathing speeds up. That’s because you can’t find any boundaries.
    And that’s how teens feel when they don’t know what’s expected of them. I’m no fan of helicopter parenting, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of letting your kids know your expectations—and the consequences for breaking the rules. On the other hand, don’t set so many rules that you stifle your teen’s ability to grow. If you’re puzzled by how much is too much, sit down and talk to your teen. Remember, you’re in this together.
  6. Teens want you to understand that it’s tough becoming an adult. Their bodies aren’t the only thing that’s changing; their brains are undergoing enormous developmental shifts too. Their cognitive skills are growing by leaps and bounds, but their ability to predict outcomes for their actions tends to lag a bit behind. The transition from child to adult is hard work on all fronts, and your teen needs validation that they’re doing okay.
  7. Hugs are rarely a bad idea. Many a difficult parent-teen conversation has been defused with a hug. Go ahead—it’ll help both of you.

Okay, I called this the “ultimate” cheat sheet, but can you think of things I’ve missed? Let me know!



8 rules for travelling with children

Dear Karen,

This week I heard that Singapore Airlines is offering child-free zones on their planes.  There was a lot of arguing the issue, which you can follow here.  My feeling is, as a mother of 3, I don’t mind travelling with children as long as they’re well-behaved.  That seems simple, but each family has their own definition of what “well-behaved” is.

When I was a young mother, we flew a lot with our children and I was constantly trying to figure out how, short of heavily drugging them, I could keep them occupied, happy and quiet for the duration of the flight.

Nederlands: Slapende kinderen in een auto. Eig...

Perfect, this is how we like ‘em:  comatose.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Living in HK meant that Vancouver and Denmark were 12 hours away, gate-to-gate.  Coming back from Vancouver was even longer, thanks to strong headwinds over the Pacific.

This kind of traveling is not for sissies.  I figured that out when our eldest was 2 years old (she’s 28 today – happy birthday!) and I was sitting with her and her younger sister, still a babe in arms, on a flight to Vancouver.  She was a seasoned traveller, but I wasn’t used to her being big enough or strong enough to cause annoyance to the people around us.  She was always quiet and if she did squirm in her seat, she was so small no one was bothered except for me.  This particular journey was different though, because suddenly she had legs long enough to kick the seat in front of her.

I thought nothing of it until I was stuffing toys into bags, waking sleepy babies, hauling kids into my arms to disembark (not “de-plane”, which sounds like Tattoo on Fantasy Island, pointing in the sky and saying to Mr Rourke, “De plane, boss!  De plane!”), and the man who had been the unwitting target of my little munchkin turned to me, leaned into my face and breathed, “Great flight, wasn’t it?  At least, it would have been if your kid hadn’t been kicking me for 8 straight hours!”.  With that, he stormed off, leaving me, slack-jawed, apologizing to empty air.

19_teatro_dozehomens HAROLDO FERRARY

That dirty, rotten kid and her dirty rotten feet! I hate her do you hear me I hate her!! (Photo credit: HAROLDO FERRARY-HAROLDO FERRARI-HAROLDO COSTA FERR)

From that trip on, I kept a hyper-vigilant eye on every move my children made onboard, determined we would never be cause for someone else’s discomfort again.

Here are my simple rules for peace and harmony when traveling with youngsters:

1) Give birth to a calm, easy-going child.  If you find you haven’t done so, then I suggest waiting until he/she’s 20 before flying with them.

2) Buy them a special backpack pre-flight and don’t let them see what’s in it until you’re onboard.  In ours we would include boxes of raisins, colouring books and some crayons, a My Little Pony for the trip, a disposable camera (which they would use to take photos of aforementioned Pony) and perhaps a book or two.  We used to bring juice boxes but tiny fingers couldn’t control the squirting of the juice through the straw and they’d end up a sticky mess seconds after opening them.  As they got older, we upgraded to Gameboy games to keep them busy.  Don’t pack Lego because sure enough, as soon as the flight lands, you’ll be down on the floor, trying to find all the tiny blocks, with an unhappy child weeping beside you.

3) At one point in the flight, my kids were always invited up to visit the cockpit.  That would give me a 30 minute break, which was much appreciated.  Obviously that’s not done anymore, which means this isn’t really a rule.

4) Keep them entertained.  Talk to them.  Play games with them.  Trying to sleep or to read?  Forget it.  For your neighbour’s sake as well as your own, keep half an eye on them at all times.

5) Make them wear their seatbelts.  Not only is it a safety precaution, but it’s an early-warning system as well.  If you’re dropping off to sleep and you hear that distinctive click, you’ll know they’re about to make a run for it.

6) Take your child to the toilet, please.  Some children are terrified of the noise the toilets make and are reluctant to go in by themselves.  What ends up happening is, they’ll either refuse to drink or they’ll drink and wet their pants.  Neither option is good.

7) If they use the headsets, please make sure they turn down the volume if they’re going to leave them plugged in while they’re sleeping.  I was able to hear an entire movie from one seat behind me because the kind child took off his earphones and left them in the seat pocket, with the sound at full volume.  Not cool.

8) Make them carry their own backpacks and if old enough, their own suitcases.  It makes them feel responsible and all grown-up, which is what we’re aiming for here.

If a child suffers ear pain on ascent or descent, that’s one thing.  But being whiny or throwing a tantrum?  That calls for the same measures you’d use on land.  It must be nipped in the bud and done in a calm voice and a no-nonsense manner.

pataleta / temper tantrum

Not acceptable in the air or on the ground. (Photo credit: rafa2010)

Really, there’s not much difference between airborne or earthbound.  Both require parents to be vigilant, aware of their surroundings and also in tune with the fact that not everyone is as in love with Little Darling as you are.

Flying is a lot easier now, with personal entertainment systems on every seat back and snacks in the galley, but let’s face it, it can still be a time of tribulation if you’re not prepared.  Let the flight attendants deal with safety drills, what you’re doing is far more important:  showing your children how to behave in public, and being a role model for other parents and children.

No one remembers the quiet family who behaved, they only remember the loud, boisterous annoying ones.  Given the choice, I want to be part of the forgotten few.


The empty nest: Advice for beginners and old hands

Dear Wendy,

It’s that time of year again—the little kids are heading back to school, and the older ones are getting ready to leave the nest, some for the first time. And about-to-be empty nest parents are either heaving a sigh of relief, or breaking out boxes of tissues, or both.

This time last year, I was just trying to prepare myself for our youngest child’s departure. My feelings were up and down like a toilet seat—one minute I was filled with pride, the next I was terrified that after 18 years, Rachel would realize she no longer needed me, and we’d drift apart. I veered madly from grief to elation to sadness to nervous anticipation…mostly because I had no idea what to expect.

So today I thought I’d resurrect some of the letters you and I wrote one another last year, as a kind of reading list for parents whose kids are getting ready to make that all-important leap into adulthood.

How to cope during the last week before college starts

Prepping the fledglings for flight
Wendy leads off with some important tips on the important advice we give…and on letting go of our darlings. Plus some asides about my driving, which you can safely ignore.

The Big Day is almost here
I spent much of last summer trying to persuade myself that I’d be absolutely fine when Rachel left, but in that last week before school started, the reality hit. I have to admit, I freaked out just a little. When our youngest kids leave home, our families need to shift and adapt to get ready. And we all need to be just a little bit more understanding toward one another.


College dorm rooms: Just one of the changes to come

What’s the plan, Stan? Health crises and the college student
No one wants to think about “the worst that could happen,” and we don’t want to freak you out when you may already be holding on by your fingernails. But if your college-bound son or daughter has a chronic illness, you both need to put a sensible plan in place to ensure they stay healthy. In fact, every college or university student should be aware of their health-care options, and know what to do in case of emergency.


Our asthma plan looks a bit like this.

What to do when the kids leave home

Where I introduce Karen to a list:
Here’s the one where you showed me how important it is to take care of myself once the door shuts behind the last child. Re-reading your excellent list, I’m struck by how much of your advice I actually took, and by how well it worked for me.


My version of Listie. Try not to gloat, dear.

There. I just admitted that you were right about something. Savour the moment, Wendy. It won’t happen often.

It’s Friday. Time for another list.
In this one, I add to your list with a few more helpful hints on getting through the days after your child leaves home.
Yes, you might cry, and that’s okay. But be prepared: get the kind of tissues with aloe in them. You can thank me later.


This woman is only pretending to sneeze, a clever ploy to disguise her tears. Also, she could be about to cry. You never know.

Adapting to the new reality

A beginning, a middle, and an end: Parenting, change, and the empty nest
Your child is in another city. Or another country. Or maybe in the same city, but in another residence. It’s just you now (or you and your partner, or you and your cats and/or dog), and it’s time to figure out what this new reality looks like.
In this letter, I remember what I used to tell my kids when they were upset by a change…and I start applying it to myself.

Pets and the empty nest
Humans aren’t the only ones affected by change. Our animal friends can find the new empty nest disruptive and upsetting. In this letter, we talk about what to expect, and how you can help your animals adapt.


Call me when the kids come home again.

From playground to college: Some things don’t change
You’re moving into a new stage of parenting, but be reassured: your kids still need you. They might not show it the same way, but if you’re aware of the signs, you’ll begin to see that your role is the same as it ever was. Except that now you have a clean house for several months of the year.

I hope this list helps at least a few parents cope with the upcoming emotional rollercoaster. Or at least serves as a welcome distraction.

And readers, remember: millions of parents have made this transition, and continue to survive and thrive. You will, too. Just give yourself time, be kind to yourself and others, and look after yourself.



Teens aren’t monsters: Notify the press

Dear Wendy,

What the heck is with all the slagging of teenagers (and young adults) lately? It’s coming from all sides: parenting blogs, magazines, news stories, social media, casual conversations.

Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m running across articles and blog posts about how very difficult it is to live with teens, how they disrespect everything and everyone, how they refuse to grow up, how they dress like what our father used to call “streetwalkers.” They’re angry. They’re hostile. They treat their parents like the live-in help. They are….TEEN-ZILLA!


Teenzilla will eat your head for lunch. Then she will fail to clean up after herself. (Photo: A. Robert)

 Usually, these articles contain heartfelt laments about parents trying to live with these terrible teens—sometimes they take a humorous slant, but it’s easy to detect a tone of underlying desperation. Even parents of pre-teens are joining in, seemingly holding their breath in dread anticipation of a decade of parenting hell.


We all know the stereotypes…but are they true?

As a two-time veteran of the teen years, I’m left completely in the dark here. I honestly don’t get what the fuss is about.

And you’ve raised three kids to young adulthood—do you think these so-called “entitled Millennials” are as lazy, privileged, arrogant, and tasteless as they’re being portrayed? In my experience, teens can sometimes be testy and hormonal, but I seem to recall that I might have had a few moments of testy hormonal behaviour myself over the years.

More often, though, I’ve found that the teens I know, including the ones I haven’t given birth to, are interesting, chatty, respectful, delightful people. So how come everyone else seems to hate them?


A gaggle of great teens

Sure, teens are going through a roller-coaster ride of development in the years between puberty and college graduation. They are suddenly aware of their bodies and their sexuality in new ways, they’ve begun to realize that they have the power to decide for themselves how they want to act, and they’re starting to push at the constraints of childhood in ways that make adults—their parents and even strangers—profoundly uncomfortable.

If a parent says, “Ah, but you haven’t met my teen! He (or she) is completely out of control—you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff he (or she) does. It’s taking every ounce of my self-control and energy to keep from bopping him (or her) over the head with a two-by-four, just to get his/her attention!” I won’t argue with them.

But I will wonder what went wrong with that person’s relationship with their kid, such that they now feel so full of anger, so powerless, and so excluded from that child’s life that they can’t imagine a constructive solution.

I don’t believe there’s anything inevitable about the stereotype of the sullen teen. Or the desperate parent, come to that.

I do believe that the seeds of a great teen are sown long before that kid feels those first hormonal proddings. Like Aretha said, it all comes down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And wise parents know that respect is a two-way street that originates during the earliest years of their relationship with their child.

Many parents mistake “obedience” for “respect”—they think that as long as their kid does what she’s told, more or less when she’s told to do it, it’s evidence that they’re being respected. But what is obedience really?

I can tell you that when I was a teen I obeyed our parents (mostly)—but I certainly didn’t feel respect for them. I was resentful of their high-handedness, angry that they were both raging alcoholics who wouldn’t seek treatment, and furious that they seemed to view me more as a troublesome nuisance than as a human being with opinions and feelings.

To me, respect means having high expectations of your child, within the constraints of their current stage of development.

  • It means understanding that kids are constantly developing, and their developmental needs must be accommodated. We don’t expect 2-year-olds to make their own suppers, and we don’t expect 15-year-olds to go out and earn a living.
  • It means being open to their opinions, understanding their point of view, and letting them know that you’re always open to hearing from them.
  • It means respecting their privacy, their ability to make choices (even the wrong ones), and their physical and sexual development.
  • It means treating your child not necessarily as an equal, but as an individual who has opinions, ideas, and thoughts that you’re interested in hearing and open to considering.

Respect doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for family decisions. As adults, we retain executive power in our families, but that doesn’t mean we run the place with an iron fist.

  • If we model good negotiation and compromise skills, our children learn to negotiate and compromise.
  • If we talk to our kids, and listen when they talk to us, they learn how to communicate…with us and others.
  • If we take responsibility for our own behaviour as parents, we teach our kids to take responsibility for everything they do and say, to us and others.
  • And if we treat kids with openness and respect, we get openness and respect in return.

The equation really is as simple as that.

It’s not rocket science, though I’ll concede that it’s definitely hard work. But the pay-off? We get to go through the teen years living with kids we like, who like us. Kids who ask our opinion before they go out and get that full-leg tattoo. Kids who don’t treat us as the live-in help. Kids who tell us what’s going on in their lives, and are interested in how we think and feel.

Kids who grow into responsible, caring adults, which as I recall was kind of the plan in the first place.



Quotations from Chairman Mum

Dear Readers,

Our mother was a master of advice-giving. She dispensed the bon mots like olives at a cocktail party.

In fact, she had so many, it’s hard for us to choose just one.

Instead, we’ve opted for a “best of” approach. Prepare yourselves. alt="IMAGE-quotations-from-chairman-mum"

How to get rid of people who annoy you (which is almost everybody)

Our mother was big on privacy. She taught us that it was not in our best interests to bother her when she was busy. Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: What are you doing?
Mum: (without looking up) Minding my own business.
Kid: ……uh….

It wasn’t until we were adults that we realized that this wasn’t a typical loving mother/child interaction. Similarly, telling your kid, “Put an egg in your shoe and beat it” is nowhere to be found in Dr. Spock.

Advice about life

Mum was a natural born cynic. She taught us to question everything…and suspect everyone.

Her favourite response to reports that “studies show that x% of people think…”: “Figures lie and liars figure.”

To prepare us for the dog-eat-dog world of work, she told us, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you blow.” Yes, really. It took us years to figure out what this actually meant.

As for how to respond to people who hurt you? “Hit him back. Harder.” This was her personal creed. ALT="IMAGE-Hit-him-back-harder"

Advice for raising children

Our mother brooked no nonsense when it came to children. Sentiment was for sissies, and kids should be not be babied.

We learned early that it was dangerous to admit we were bored. Her inevitable, crushing response was, “Only boring people get bored.”

She didn’t tolerate idleness–”Don’t just stand there with your finger up your nose and your mind in neutral“—or foolishness: “Use your head for something other than a hat-rack.”

Never tell a child that cough medicine “tastes good” or is “yummy”. If you do, they’ll think it’s candy and drink it when you’re not around. (<— NOTE: ACTUAL USEFUL ADVICE HERE.)

Hints for a happy marriage

Mum approached marriage the way she approached everything: with a winner-take-all attitude.

Her most oft-repeated advice on a successful partnership was, “Always keep your husband on a short leash.” This conjures images no child should ever have to have about their parents. Also, Shades of Grey aside, what on earth does it mean? We prefer not to consider this.


The authors do not endorse this view. Just saying.

She didn’t believe in depending on a man for money. “A woman should always know exactly what’s in her bank account, and make sure she has enough get-away money for a rainy day.”

As for marital violence? “If my husband ever punched me, I’d change the locks immediately and buy a big, heavy baseball bat.” And she would have, too.

She wasn’t crazy about the domestic side of marriage, and once told Wendy, “A woman who irons towels is a woman who has no life.” (This came up in the course of a phone call, in which Wendy foolishly confessed that when she answered the phone, she’d been ironing towels.)

Cooking advice

Mum cooked as little as possible, and when she did, her recipes could be…unusual. Here’s her advice for newlywed brides: “Dad and his dad insisted I cook from my own imagination when we were first married. No cookbooks allowed. So I made them nothing but wieners and Jello…for a year. They came to realize a cookbook was a good idea.” alt="IMAGE-No-cookbooks"

Cookbook or no cookbook, she had her own peculiar ideas about the proper way to prepare food. For example: “The ONLY proper way to make pasta is to set a handful of spaghetti in a pot of cold water and bring it to a boil. It will soften and sink into the water as it heats up.

And “the proper way to test spaghetti for doneness: throw a strand at the ceiling. If it sticks, it’s not done yet. If it falls back down, you’re good to go.” We don’t even know where to start with this.


Sex and love and all that

Her advice about sex was a lot like her: inscrutable, confusing, yet threatening.

The sum total of her birds and bees talk to Karen was, “Don’t sleep with a man before you marry him, or you’ll get pregnant.” This caused great anxiety and confusion, since she failed to mention exactly how one thing could lead to another. For several years, Karen was under the impression that armies of sperm could somehow march across the sheets to impregnate unsuspecting sleeping women.

Mum’s sex advice to Wendy: “I’ll buy you a book about it when you’re 18.” This was when Wendy was 14, and reading The Hite Report. Mum asked if she could borrow it.

Points of etiquette

Mum was a regular Emily Post, if Emily Post had been a cross between Mame, Rose from Gypsy, and Mussolini. Here are a few of her gems:

  • Never call anyone “sir.” And “madams” run brothels, so don’t call anyone that, either.
  • Always tell a person if she has lipstick on her teeth, but never tell her if it’s something she can’t fix—like a run in her stocking. (<— NOTE: ACTUAL USEFUL ADVICE HERE.)
  • A lady may smoke, but she never walks and smokes. Only hookers do that.
  • If you must insist upon picking your teeth, do it in private where I can’t see you.

The womanly art of self-defense

Mum believed firmly that women ought to know how to defend themselves. She told us repeatedly, “Wear high heels so that if someone tries to attack you, you can take your shoe off and hit him in the head with the pointy end of the heel.” Yes, that would probably do it. alt="IMAGE-Mother's Day-high-heels-best-friend"

And she had a theory about how she’d handle a burglar, should one be unfortunate enough to venture near our house. “I’d grab him by the shirt, haul him inside the house, and shoot him.” Because she heard that you can’t actually shoot a person who’s outside your house, but if they’re inside, it’s clearly self-defense.

A woman’s purse should contain…

Mum did not believe in clutter.

“All you need in your handbag is a wallet, keys, tape and a stapler. Wallet for money. Keys to start the car/open the front door. Tape to clean lint off clothes, and stapler to repair torn hems.”

She also carried a bottle opener, since Mum never did meet a beer she didn’t like. Be prepared, that was her motto. alt="IMAGE-can-opener-don't-leave-home-without-one"

Well, there you have it. Our mother in a nutshell. Is it any wonder we’ve turned out so well-balanced? Yeah,. that’s what we thought, too.


Karen and Wendy


Older posts
%d bloggers like this: