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Ditch the Guilt and Raise Happier Kids

by Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock are the founders of and co-authors of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids. Read more »

Sorry, Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock is no longer taking questions.

Do we become parents to be tormented and miserable? Of course not! We anticipate that parenthood will enhance our lives and ultimately bring us a family from which we derive great joy.   Why then all the Mommy Guilt?  The easy answer is we love our kids and we worry about them. We want them to be happy and also to be productive members of society.

For many a mom and dad, the weight of making parenting decisions can be a heavy, burdensome, stressful and even overwhelming responsibility.  From Coast to Coast, Suburbia to Urban living, we're all trying to raise our kids and lower our stress levels.  However, despite our best intentions, our Guilt-O-Meters can skyrocket and, before we know it, whammo!   But have no fear, we're here to help!

We're sure you have your own Guilt-O-Meter increasers and we encourage you to share them.  After all, everyone is trying to muddle through parenting as best we can. It's not "one size fits all." Each family is unique.  Our specialty is listening to parents and sharing strategies that we hope will encourage you to ditch the guilt and keep the kids.  

One area that seems to be spiking guilt levels recently is competition.  From preschool soccer to college honor rolls, parents are worried the pendulum has swung too far. Whether it be a team sport, ballet, or a science fair project, the pressure to perform not only falls on children, but on mom and dad, too.  

Remember being the last kid picked for the basketball team in elementary school PE?  What about the drama of ending up in the chorus instead of being cast in the leading role? Or having your science project blow up--literally?  It didn't feel very good. As parents, our instinct is to protect our children from physical and emotional scars. But when did this become synonymous with protecting them from failure and disappointment?  Kids need to learn how to be team players, good sports, and, dare we say it, competitive. The horror!

Do we really feel okay telling our kids they are the best at something when they aren't? Or do we feel guilty about doing so? We're here to tell you that rallying against the trend to de-emphasize competition and replace it with empty victories is going to decrease your Guilt-O-Meter and increase the chance for a parenting home run. What do we mean by empty victories? Here's the scoop: Young children need lots of positive reinforcement to help them build up confidence to go out and explore the world, but gears need shifting as our kids get older and learn how to navigate more independently. Tripping up every once in a while in order to have the chance to bounce back is a rite of passage; awarding trophies to everyone just for showing up isn't.  

Rather than being able to help kids improve and develop skills, by pointing out both strengths and weaknesses, we're all getting swept up in the idea that competition is a dirty word. We hear a great deal about how resilient kids are, and its true most are, but resilience comes from trying things again and again. It's hard to fix what you don't know is broken. Children build up their physical and emotional resilience through exposure to consequences. Take away the consequences and what do kids have to bounce back from? When kids get knocked down or fall down they look to us as parents to tell them, "Get up! Try again! You can do it!" and when we do that, our kids turn their heads and smile because it feels good to know your parent has your back.  

Yes, our instincts tell us to shield our kids from any pain, be it body or soul, but there should be a sign-on bonus to prepare them for the real world. The real world is competitive, so let's continue to teach our kids there is safety in numbers, cheaters never really win, quitting is okay sometimes and losing isn't the end of the world. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. There will be times when our kids will face disappointment and failure, but knowing their parents are cheering them on fills our kids with the confidence to feel like winners, even when they end up in Second Place.  

Tell us about your Guilt-O-Meter. What's it reading?

Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock are no longer answering questions. But please share your own experiences and ideas by leaving a comment.

Sorry, Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Gabriela writes...

My guilt-o-meter spikes up EVERYTIME I have to drop him off at day is the hardest thing I have to do each day!! I have to work from 9-6pm and well my poor son is forced to be somewhere other than at home for ten hours! The thought of that drives me crazy all day at work! I am a single mom and he means the world to me...his happiness, the smile on his face is the best. Yet when I drop him off, all I can remember is the tears and his arms reaching out for me to come back! That is the image I carry with me through out my day at work...It is extremely hard and very stressful. I feel that I am not a good mother...I feel like I leave him when he needs me, I am not there. I have even considered getting a P/T job so I don't work as many hours. Do you ladies have any ideas that can possibly help me feel less guilty about having to provide for him without making him insecure for having to walk away as he cries out for me? PLEASE! Thank you!

Aviva? writes...

Bringing children to day care is often a guilt spiker for parents. The look on their little faces and sound of their sorrow tugs on us more than the weight of their arms ever could. Ways to help this time for both parents and kids vary a bit depending on the age of the child but here are a few suggestions. When you are at home with your child, play peek-a-boo - it helps children learn that things go away and come back. Avoid sneeking away when you bring your child to day care - that can be a pretty scary thing for a child to see mom or dad there one minute, turn around to play, and then you are gone. When possible, help your child get involved with an activity at drop off time. Review your child's schedule in comparison to yours and talk about what things you will both be doing just before you are together again - this gives them a good way to gauge your return time. Ask the child care provider if there is a good time for you to call them or for them to call you and let you know your child is playing happily. This way you can have a happy child instead of a crying one in your mind as you go about your work. Talk with your provider about other ideas they may have. Remember, you are not the only parent going through this and they are sure to have suggestions from other families they work with. Most importantly, remind yourself that working is a part of who you are and part of how your family functions. You are not spending time away from your son to punish either of you, you are doing it to enhance your family.

Devra? writes...

Hi Gabriela, I totally get what you are saying, not only from the perspective of being a mom but from my own life experience of growing up in a single parent family with a working mom. I know my mom worried about me and how I was doing, but I also know that my perspective as a kid was different than hers as an adult. To this day she will say "I know you felt really awful about...." and I'll say "Nah, I don't remember it that way. It wasn't a major trauma for me because I didn't think about it like you did as a grown-up." Try to think to yourself "Is this more my issue or his?"

As for some practical suggestions to reduce your guilt....

If your son is smiling at pick up, why not try to lock in that face into your memory in the mornings after you drop him off? This way you can replace that image of the sad child with the happy one you know you will see again in the evening. If you don't have a current picture of your son smiling, consider taking one ASAP and putting it in a place where you can either see if or access it during the course of your day, reminding you that your son is a happy kid, even if he didn't seem to start the day as such. As Aviva already mentioned, it is perfectly reasonable to check in with the child care provider later in the morning and ask about how your son is doing. "Is he still crying? How long after I left was he still crying?" It is possible that while you think he is crying for hours, the tears have dried up before you've even gotten to your car, the bus stop or subway station. It would definitely be guilt relieving to know your son's tears are shorter than you imagined, yes?
Keep in mind your son is also going to some day be in awe of everything you have done for your family. He is seeing you work, be productive and as he grows up he will understand more and more what it means to be responsible for himself and others. You are being a fabulous teacher of a life lesson!
Lastly, depending on your son's age, it might be helpful to let him know leaving him is difficult for you too and you miss him during the day. However, focus on the positive by telling your son what keeps you going through the day is knowing he will be in your arms at the end of that day. Tell him how much you look forward to hearing about all the fun activities he has been doing while you've been at work, which is soooo boring in comparison to being able to paint at the easel or play with friends.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah writes...

Okay. Here is mine.

I have two kids that are almost four and not potty trained. I feel like I have failed as a parent.

I am a SAHM. I have the time to do it, and yet... it isn't happening.

Guilt Meter Level: Red

Aviva? writes...

Sarah- No worries. As a matter of fact, you have hit on one of my favorite guilt inducers! My oldest child was fully potty mastered at 2-1/2. Her little sister arrived around the same time and everyone told me I should fully expect her to regress. She never did. I figured I was the world's greatest potty training mommy. WRONG! Child #2 had no interest at 2, 2-1/2 or 3 (and no, this was not a boy). I tried everything I could think of and everything I read. I had myself trained to bring her into the bathroom and to clean up after her but that was about it. I finally realized, this is ridiculous. She has no physical or mental developmental delays, she simply isn't interested yet. I decided to give it a rest. She had everything she needed to do the job right and she would get to it when it mattered to her. Guess what? A few days later it was all over. It was no longer a battle of "mom wants me to do it so I won't." What about child #3 - I can honestly say, "I don't really remember." There is a vague recollection of letting him pick out really cool underwear and giving him the basics on here is the toilet and here is how to use it. After that, it was up to him.
Toilet learning around ages 2-5 is a cruel trick played on parents. It is a time when children are just learning to assert their independence and we are trying to teach them a new skill that we are far more interested in having them master than they are in mastering. So remember this, there are 2 things you cannot do with kids. Force things into them and force things out of them. We can provide them with a choice of foods but they have to do the actual eating. We can get them the perfect potty chair (which, by the way child #1 loved, child #2 would never resort to using and child #3 didn't care about), provide them with the coolest of underwear, and leave great stories in the bathroom for them to read but only they can actually go to the bathroom when they are ready.
So Sarah, sit back, relax, quit doing extra laundry, and take comfort in the fact that it will happen and it has very little, if anything, to do with your ability as a parent!

Sue writes...

What to do about kids who don't want to compete? Should they be made to even if they don't like it?

Devra? writes...

Hi Sue,
What a great question! While the knee jerk response often is,"No, of course not, we shouldn't force our kids to do things they tells us they don't want to do." But, on the practical side, we also know there will be times when parenting trumps tantrum and our child may actually come out on the other side being happy we didn't let them off the hook. It's not an easy call to make, however.

We're big fans of breaking out your investigative tools and taking a closer look before you decide to pull your child from an activity or put your foot down. Ask yourself if you can identify what it is your child doesn't like about competing. If your child is verbal, you can ask them some questions as to what it is about competing they don't like. Such as "Is it this particular sport?", "Is it being on team with people you don't know?", "Is anyone making fun of the way you participate?" Guilting a child into an activity by saying, "We've paid X amount for you to do this." Even if it is true, if you say this to your child it might just make you sound like a bully to them and won't give your child a sense of ownership over how they feel about the activity. It will just become something else to argue about and it distracts from dealing with the real issue, which is your child's expression of discomfort and easing it.

If you are dealing with a younger child, having them watch the activity and not participate is perfectly fine. You also might want to pay attention to particular sensory issues. For example I had one son who couldn't stand loud voices and his swim instructor had a booming voice from Brooklyn he just couldn't handle. Once I figured out it was the instructor's voice, and not the pool, we switched him to a different class with an instructor wth a softer voice.

Oh, and I can't tell you how many times my other son had to sit back and survey the scene before he would participate in any kind of music and movement type class. It took a bit, but eventually he eased himself in when he felt it was comfortable to do so. Now he is a maniac on the dance floor at almost any wedding!

Try to capture your inner Sherlock Holmes and see if you come up with clues pointing to issues that are elementary or complicated. Put them under your parental magnifying glass, see what makes sense to you based upon evidence you collect during your investigation. (such as information from co-parent, coaches, teachers, instructors, other parents, kids, etc.). Once you've got it all pieced together coupled with your own parent perceptions, you will hopefully feel like you have solved the mystery of what to do about a child who doesn't like to compete.

B~ writes...

Okay, the entire area I live in is obsessed with being overly involved with the children. I mean middle school parents making their decisions, high school parents complaining constantly to teachers.... Can I just really not care? Does this make me a bad mom... I really am SO sick of the overbearing, snotty, parents that do not teach children responsibility and how to deal with problems.
Am I the slacker, bad mom because I allow mine to make mistakes and deal with the consequences?

I am not sure I feel guilty but wondering if I should?

Devra? writes...

Hi B~,

Let me absolve you right now. No, you need not feel guilty about not feeling guilty. If the way you are parenting your kids is working for you, then I would suggest incorporating two words into your vocabulary to be utilized during those times when you second guess your parenting decisions, "So what!" It doesn't mean you are being uncaring, it just means you aren't getting sucked into competing against other parents for "Best in Show."

Debbie writes...

I always have a hard time coming up with activities for my kids especially that I will enjoy doing with them or just having the supplies on hand? I feel guilty that I don't spend enough time with either of my children. I want to be involved but I don't know how to. I was raised by parents who never interacted with me and so I have nothing to go on. I love my kids and I want to be with them but I struggle with it. It is also hard since I had my two kids so close so I am going through a phase of depression and that leaves me tired and cranky. I would love any advice you have to give.

Devra? writes...

Hi Debbie,

First of all a compliment must be given to you immediately because you are able to identify past and present factors which maybe be contributing to the way you parent your kids and/or the way you perceive your parenting. A psychiatrist I once worked with often told people "Taking an objective look at yourself is one of the most difficult things for a human being to do."

Let me recommend a book to you,one I recommend to friends, family, even strangers I meet in the grocery store. It's a book written by my colleague and journalist friend Tracy Thompson. I consider Tracy's book to be an excellent resource for anyone who has/had a depressed mom, thinks they are a depressed mom or knows a depressed mom. It's a fast read, which frankly, is what one needs if already depressed and feeling overwhelmed, right? The Ghost In The House.

If you aren't already in treatment for your depression, I encourage you to contact a physician or mental health professional ASAP to discuss referral options/treatment. The first step towards becoming less cranky and tired is being physically and emotionally healthy. Take care of yourself, try to eat well, get sleep. I know the phrase has been overused to the point where people make fun of it, but I'm going to say it anyway, you really do need to put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help anyone else with theirs.

Aviva? writes...

Debbie - I often have the same issue with my kids. For some reason I am not all that anxious to play a lot of the games my kids want to play. But you know what? They aren't always too excited to do things with me when I ask them to either. I guess it goes both ways. Sometimes we can muster up the energy and desire to play what they want to and sometimes we can't. That's OK. The very fact that it concerns you is a clear indication that you do make the effort to interact with them when they desire you to do so. As for coming up with activities, follow their lead. The ideas may seem silly but it's really what they want to do. A child's imagination is a wonderful thing and it is often far more creative than any toys or purchased games could be. If you have a good supply of the basics (crayons, paper, tape) I bet your kids could come up with something - don't be afraid to let them think beyond the typical. I have watched kids make slinkies out of sticky note pads and my son can spend 30 - 60 minutes with a pair of scissors and some old scrap paper. Lastly, when you do sit down to play dolls or cards or trucks or whatever else with them, chances are they won't want you to stay too long because you don't play right! So, enjoy little moments of time with your kids and remember there are clowns for hire for a reason - being a parent doesn't neccessarily mean you must be your child's personal entertainer at all times.

carly writes...

wow...thats weird..debbie, u sound just like i wish i had advice to give but im in the same boat...hope we can both get some good constantly goin on these websites to get ideas..

Devra? writes...

Think back to something you enjoyed doing as a child. Maybe you liked to draw animals, maybe you liked to jump rope, play handball or just skipping down the street. Find something you liked when you were little and see if your child likes it too. Try not to get wrapped up in how much time you need to spend on any one activity with your child. Sometimes 5 minutes is all they really want from us, not the hour we may think we should give in order to make it "quality" time. Any time you spend with your child is quality time, whether it be a few minutes or a few days.

April writes...

Quick Question...
I am a 40 yr old single mom of a 7 yr old son. I work ALOT of hours and my job is very demanding and am completely exhausted most nights I have him on visitation. Lately I have been a bit lax with him and its starting to show- I know he should do a bit more, ( clean up after himself, do extra credit homework.. sometimes, we skip the homework altogether!) Im just completely burnt out and let his dad do the homework with him when he is over there of late, as when I see him I want the fun times. I feel awful! but make up for it by encouraging things like "SchoolHouse Rock" instead of "Power Rangers"... et al..
What can I do to participate in his life more without dropping the ball at work. Its just getting harder...

The ever so frustrated corporate mom..

Aviva? writes...

April - It sounds to me like you are doing really great things with your son. You know your own limitations as far as being too burnt out to tackle tough stuff some days and you find alternative ways to share the time with your son. You know, at 7 years old he could help with your exhaustion by contributing a bit around the house and even this could be fun time well spent together. A lot of the time, we can encourage participation from our kids by relaxing our own expectations a bit. Perhaps you could fold laundry together and realize it doesn't have to be perfect. Homework can be tackled in very small blocks of time (especially at 7) while preparing dinner or just before settling down for some School House Rock. A quick song and dance in the kitchen while getting food ready is a blast too. Your home time is your home time and your work time is your work time. Focus on each one while your doing them and remember that both serve a valuable purpose in your life. Your son will love the time you spend with him whether you are playing, working or just plain hanging out together.

Robin writes...

Thank you so much for your realistic approach. Everyone winning, no losers and protecting children from disappointment is a recipe for disaster and well... quite frankly produces dillusional unhappy children and brats. Facing challenges with my children whether they are the best or just average has taught me so much about myself,my own failures, how to love better and be an effective parent. Letting go should start at an early age. We must pry them from our clutches and let them get a few tears and a few boo-boos. It is then we can give them a hug & kiss, pat them off and tell them it's o.k, try again.
With this said; it goes without saying, cheering them on at ther success' is exciting too especially because my children are brilliant, georgeous and extraordinary!Thanks and keep up the great work!!!

Aviva? writes...

Robin- Our children can often be our very best teachers! Thanks for the praise.

Walter writes...

I am concerned about my 12 year old sons masculine development. His confidence is somewhat low around other boys.

What can My wife and I do to ensure normal development ?

Aviva? writes...

Walter - The joys of the preteen years. If there is one thing I have learned in talking with countless parents - no one, and I mean NO ONE, has said they would want to go back to their middle school years. Ages 11 - 14 are probably some of the most difficult developmental years. Hormones and emotions are as noncommital as friendships. These years are no easier on parents of the kids either. We want to make sure our kids are happy and have good social lives. But how, exactly, can we measure that? What may appear a lack of confidence or unhappiness to us may simply be our child's personality which is different than ours. Adolescents have a lot to figure out about themselves, relationships, learning and growing. As parents, we want to minimize the pain this can often bring about but as adults who have been through it, we know that some things can only be learned through experience. I would encourage you to be there to support your son as he explores his world. You can make suggestions of new things to try, places to go, people to spend time with. Simply knowing you are there for him will help build his confidence. Adolescents are really not much different than curious toddlers. The safer and more comfortable they feel with their parents, the more likely they are to venture out and try things, knowing they have a home base to return to. This being said... our adolescents also need a lot of the same limits put on them that toddlers need. Don't confuse support and encouragement to try new things with compliance for putting up with inappropriate behavior. But that is another topic all together.
You can also check out for more information.

Devra? writes...

Hi Walter,
Let me tell you there isn't enough money in the world that could convince me to go back and be a middle schooler again! The life of a middle schooler is filled with drama; one day they all love each other, the next they hate each other and the day after that they are all trying to find rides to meet at the movies. The roller coaster ride of a middle schooler's social life can leave a parent's stomach in knots.

Before you and your wife decide you need to hit the emergency brake, here are some questions/ideas you may wish to consider.

1. Does your son like school? Does he complain about going to school? Try to avoid going to school? Any mysterious stomach aches or other physical complaints? Sometimes kids who can't put their feelings into words will complain of physical ailments.

2. Does your son have any friends? If your son has a friend, or more, then you may just want to keep your eye out for any dramatic drop in his social life. examples of this would be friends stop calling or your son doesn't hang out with his friends like he usually does.

3. Do you think there could be any bullying going on? If so, might be time for a phone call to the school. Schools need to know if there are bullying problems as they have a responsibility to keep all students safe at school.

4. If your son is not confident with himself or not with his peers, maybe it's time to sign him up for a group activity of some sort. Whether it be sports, music, something in your faith community. It might be easier for your son to blend into a pack of kids all beginning something at the same time instead of joining in on an activity already in progress.

5. If your son isn't a "joiner" then maybe it might work better for him if you invite one friend at a time to join your son doing something he enjoys, such attending a local theater production, visiting a museum, attending a local high school game, grabbing some ice cream, playing board games, video games, just hanging out together at your house, etc.

6. Compliment your son, let him know when you are proud of him, tell him you love him, let him know you will listen if he needs to talk. It boosts anyone's confidence to be noticed and recognized. Help him build his confidence at home and then he will be able to bring it out into the world with him.

christine writes...

What do you do when you are just totally unable to provide the things that your children want. I'm ok with not giving them the newest and best but when they get picked on by their cousins because they are wearing their hand-me-downs I just feel like the world's worst mom. I understand that my priorities may be different. I guess I'm just wondering how to explain that to my 4th grader.

Aviva? writes...

Christine - It sounds like it's the parents of the cousins who need explaining to more than your 4th grader. We are not obligated to get our children everything they want - if that were the case we would see far less commercials over and over again because kids are easily pursuaded with just one viewing. We do have a responsibility to provide them with adequate food, shelter and clothing to be able to participate in our society. We also have a more important responsibility to help them develop into good citizens. This includes teaching them the value of a dollar, educating them about recycling and encouraging them to focus on things deeper than material objects. It sounds like your priorities will pass these valuable lessons on to your kids. Perhaps you could encourage other family members to do the same with their children. In the mean time, you and your 4th grader could sit down together and prioritize things along with a budget - you may both learn a great deal from doing it. writes...

When I was traveling for work and even now when I take a short trip, I feel guilty.

Not because I am leaving the kids but because I am so happy to go!

Aviva? writes...

Travelingmom - Go, enjoy! Our children need to see us as total human beings, not just moms or dads. They need to know there are lots of things to do in life and all of them serve a purpose. The fact that you are not feeling guilty about leaving the kids means they are in good care and you should enjoy yourself! A quick phone call while you are away OR returning with a little something for them is enough to let them know that even while you're gone, you are still their mom and you still love them.

college mom writes...

I need advice from other working mothers...I have this fear that since I will be so busy, that my baby will not know me. I know it's ridiculous, but honestly, thats how I feel! Right now I'm in college and the baby is 4 months. In a year I'll be in medical school, and I know I wont have time to spend with her. I'm lucky in the fact that I have her father and his family to watch the baby, but I feel that she won't get attached to me. See, when I was raised, my mother and I bonded so much that to this day she is my best friend, and ultimately this is what I want with my daughter, but I fear it won't happen.
I need some positive advice!!!!

Aviva? writes...

College mom - Fear not. There was once the belief that "attachment" was a thing that had to occur during the first few hours after the birth of a child. We have learned this is not true. Bonding between a parent and child is something that grows and develops with time. The relationships we form with our children are not static entities. They are constantly changing to meet the needs of both parent and child. You and your baby are both very lucky to have lots of loving family members to share your lives with. As humans, we were really meant to have many caregivers for each child - different people help to shape us into the complete adults we are meant to be. Your child will, no doubt, have lots of best friends in her life because of this wonderful family experience. Good luck with college, medical school and mommying!

melody writes...

What would you do for and say to your child who was a product of paretal sabotage by a step parent who was able to manipulate your child into beleiving that you are a bad mom. That you say and do the things that the step parent is actually doing. I am afraid that this will cause emotional damage to my fourteen year old at the most critical point in her life.

Devra? writes...

First off, before I would say or do anything, I would have to make absolute sure that I had all of my facts straight, which would include the adults trying to work out the conflict together so the 14 year old isn't being put in the middle of an adult disagreement. You are correct, it is damaging to a child to be in the center of an emotional tug of war, but you are also talking about a 14 year old, who may have her own reason to stoke the fire between you and her stepmother. Sometimes children in blended families will pit parents against one another for attention when they aren't sure how to handle their own conflicts with any of the adults involved. There is always the possibility that your daughter may not be transmitting information to you accurately or she may have her own perception of what the stepmother said. An example of this would be: Stepmother says to teen: "In our house we expect you to be in bed by 10PM, we know your mother has different rules at her house." and the teen goes to her mother and reports, "My stepmother is forcing me to go to bed early and telling me your rules aren't good." See how the message can be changed based upon perception?

However, if you have ruled out the possibility that your daughter is stirring the pot, and you know you are in a situation where the other adults aren't reasonable, all you can do is focus on what you can control in this situation, which is your relationship with your daughter. Reinforce your own value system, try not to make comparison's to the stepmother. The less you say about the stepmother and your feelings about her, the better. Stick to facts, not assumptions. If you continue to worry about the effects this conflict is having on your daughter, I would encourage you to meet with a family therapist.

Teenage years are tough, having to deal with additional conflict on top of it, makes it even tougher, but it sounds to me like you are looking for solutions and willing to do whatever is necessary to take care of your daughter's emotional health. Keep focused on what is in the best interest of your daughter, instead of whatever you think the stepmother may or may not be doing. This way, you won't get distracted from your goal; having a healthy relationship with your daughter.

singlemom30 writes...

I work 40 hours a week and take 3 collage classes. I have a 6 year old her father and I are not together, but we have joint custody and equal amounts of parenting time. I have her 4 days and he has her 4 days. I feel guilty when she goes to her dads house. I feel like I'm not a good parent because I have 4 days of free time. Actually even though I have a full schedule I do also have some time to my self. Sometimes when she is at her dads he is working and his wife is taking care of her. It kills me to know that I could be taking care of her but he does have a family. At my house its just me. Why do I feel so guilty and jealous at the same time. Do you think it will affect her when she gets older from being bounced between the two homes. Or will she be greatful that we both love and care for her. She doesn't know that this is not normal. Its been like this since she was 2 years old.

Devra? writes...

Hi SingleMom30,

Utterly normal to feel pangs of guilt and jealousy. On the one hand you've got the complicated emotions that accompany a separation and on the other hand you've got a painful reminder that you are on your own while your daughter's dad has a wife. It's natural to feel as if you are being left out when the three of them are spending time together. But even so, how about trying to ease up on your own emotions and give yourself a break from them? What about reframing the time you spend away from your daughter as a recharging of your battery? A time where you focus on who you are outside of being a mom. Try new recipes, borrow movies you've been dying to see from the library, get ahead in your coursework, hang out with friends. Your identity as a person didn't go away just because you became a mom, and when your daughter comes back after a visit, you both will have experiences you can share with each other. It's a good thing when your daughter knows you aren't home alone moping for 4 days, it will let her enjoy her time away worry-free too! Kids can pick up on our emotions, despite our best intentions not to let them surface. Try to focus on the postitive aspects of having time to yourself.

As for your concern about your daughter being "bounced between two homes," this is normal for her. While it may not be how everyone lives, it is the way she lives and she sees you and her father communicating well and cooperating, so you are absolutely correct that your daughter will know both of you love and care for her and she is a very special little girl to all of you.

Aarti writes...


MY 3 Yrs old daughter, always crying, always do things to get attention, donnot like her 7 month old sis, doesnot listen to me and dad, always says u donnot lov me, but we try to do everything lov her, but she always cries even for small small things...i donnot nw how to handle this problem. we are really worried about her behaviour.

Please help us how daughter comes o normal behaviour.


Aviva? writes...

Aarti - I really don't know why they call them the "terrible twos." I suppose it was named that before the child became a "horrible 3", "unbearable 4" and "wow, I like you again 5." Toddlers of all ages and personalities can be tough to deal with. Your daughter's behavior is perfectly normal for her age. She is difficult with you because she knows you do love her no matter what - even when she says you don't. Young children are often confused on how to get attention from their parents. When you add a baby as competition, it gets even harder for them. The crying and misbehavior is her way of saying, "don't forget about me." I would suggest that you try to ignore the tears and other negative behavior as long as it is not dangerous to her or others in the house. When she is behaving in ways you want, smother her with love. You can help her turn her behavior around by telling her other things she can do instead. For example, when she is trying to talk to you through tears or by screaming, you can let her know that you really can't understand her when she is talking that way and could she please try again in a softer voice or without the tears. Keep loving her and being responsible parents and she will come back around. This is all normal!

elvera writes...

I would like know how to help my two grandsons to get along better. They are fighting all the time and I need to seperate them from each other offen. One is 7 and the other 9 The nine yr old has lived with me since 2 weeks old and the 7 yr old since Dec. Both have ADHD and other issues. The nine yr old says the 7 made him do everything bad and uses that for excuses.Some pointers would help. I feel like I am pulled in two directions THANK-YOU

Aviva? writes...

Elvera - First I want to thank you and congratulate you on caring for your grandsons! It is not an easy task. There are 2 schools of thought when siblings fight: force them together or force them apart. Depending on the kids and the family dynamics, they are both effective. Here they are in a nutshell. When my girls would fight, I would make them do a task together in a very small area - for example, they would have to work together to clean the bathroom, or a closet. Other times, I would simply sit them on the couch together and let them know they could get up when they were done fighting and could behave appropriately. I didn't care how they settled things, as long as they settled them. PLAN B - Inform the boys they are not behaving in a way that shows they deserve to be brothers. They will not be allowed to play together, share items, have any of the advantages of being family members until they can show you they can get along. As for being pulled in 2 directions, all you can do is love each of them. They are old enough for you to tell them how hurt you are by their behavior and how difficult it is for you to deal with it because you love them both. I hope this helps.

Daniel Jaramillo writes...

I am trying to get my 4 year old daughter to stop sucking her fingers. She sucks her first two fingers on her left hand. I explain that its not healthy for her tooth development. I recently read that a reward system may work but I think of that a bribe which I don't like. I also don't like the idea of making her feel guilty to stop or the nail polish stuff. Any other ideas would be appreciated help.

Devra? writes...

Hi Daniel,
According to the American Dental Association, most children stop sucking their thumb (or in your case fingers) between 2 and 4 years old. So your daughter is still in the age range for quitting on her own. However, there are a few things you can do in order to help her along in the process. Heap on the praise and compliments when she isn't sucking her fingers, an example of this would be "Wow, I can understand what you are telling me when you don't have your fingers in your mouth. This is terrific!" or "I can see your entire smile now, it's so lovely!" If compliments aren't doing the trick, you can sit down with your daughter and let her know you are going to help her to quit the habit. Let her choose between wearing a mitten, putting a band-aid on the fingers or putting a sock on her hand. Any of those three my help to remind her not to suck on her fingers.

If those methods aren't working, why not give your dentist a call and see if you can bring your daughter in so the dentist can help her to quit. Sometimes kids respond to an outside authority, when they won't respond to a parent.

You are correct that scolding her or guilting her isn't going to get her to stop, it will only make her feel lousy. I understand reward systems don't appeal to you, but for some children they are tremendously effective. There are a few different ways to provide positive reinforcement to end a bad habit. Aviva should be along shortly to talk about em!

Aviva? writes...

Daniel - I hope Devra's reply has given you a few things to consider that you may not have thought of yet. One thing to remember about sucking, it is a comfort behavior. Children suck in order to self soothe. You may notice she does it more when she is in a new or uncomfortable situation or when she is falling asleep. Recognize it as a need for comfort and offer something else in exchange. This could be seen as a reward to her but what you are really doing is offering an exchange. In this instance, the reward system is less likely to turn into a bribe. The reward appropirately matches the behavior you are trying to change. Perhaps a special new stuffed animal, doll, or blanket could take the place of the sucking. You may find something new is not what she wants at all, instead she may want a t-shirt of yours to sleep in at night. If you are not opposed to your daughter painting her fingernails, you might suggest that when she stops sucking her fingers, you will let her pick out a favorite color nail polish to wear. While sucking is developmental, it will become harder to knock the habit as they get older. Many children go into kindergarten as thumb suckers but quickly stop when they are teased by their peers for doing it. Save her the peer pressure and save yourself the dental bills by helping her now. She probably would like to stop almost as much as you would like her to.

Brenda writes...

I am guilty of mirroring others' emotions. Not sure how I can get around it. When it's positive feelings, it's great. But when it's negative or stressed emotions, it's very difficult for me. My husband has no coping skills when it comes to stress or when things don't go exactly right.

What tools can I hone so that I can lessen the affects that others have on me?

Aviva? writes...

Brenda - You're an empathetic soul. A trait our world could probably benefit from seeing more of. Unfortunately, it sounds like you have a little trouble controlling your empathy sometimes. I would encourage you to put yourself first more often. It is one thing to empathize but another to do it to your detriment. Keep in mind you can help others who need you by being at your very best!

Jody writes...

I have a three, almost four year old and a nine month old daughter I stay at home with during the day. My question is, my three year old likes to push my buttons by doing the opposite of what I ask her to do. I have had her hearing checked and that is fine. But it seems when it is bad, it is really bad. I send her on 'breaks' and make her apoligize to me for what the situation was that she was punished for. I have tried taking toys away, and her responce is that she has others to play with. My biggest concern is that I end up repeating myself over and over to her and that is where the frustration comes. My question is how do I handle her when the listening is not happening?

Aviva? writes...

Jody - If you haven't already done so, please go up and read my response to Aarti. She is dealing with a similar situation. Your comment reminded me of one more (and very important) strategy. Do not engage in a battle with your child. State what you expect and then expect it. Avoid repeating yourself or raising your voice. Once you find yourself arguing with your child, you lose - no matter what the outcome is. If she does not respond appropriately, you may need to help her. It is easy to forget our children need to be taught correct responses to situations - even when we think they should know them. If you are trying to get her to clean up, you may need to break things down into very small, simple tasks to keep her from feeling overwhelmed. If she needs to stop doing something, you may need to be very specific about what to stop AND what to do instead. The more calm, consistent and caring we can be as parents, the more relaxed, remarkable and rewarding our lives with our children will feel.

Gretchen writes...

hi i have a 22 month old son that is a very picky eater he is very low on the waight scale but the doc says its not too bad. do you have any advice to get my son to eat? we are a family that tries to eat very healthy though we do enjoy the occational treat. my son loves most fruit but weriodly hes been stopping. the only foods i seem to get him to eat is tomatos(which seems to give him a diaper rash),peas, and bread. any advice would help thanks for your time.

Aviva? writes...

Gretchen - Have no fear, to date I have been unable to find any evidence of a child voluntarily starving him or herself to death (although I have often heard my own children whine, "I'm starving to death.") As I told Sarah in regards to toilet learning, there are 2 things we cannot do with our children: Force things into them or out of them. Keep providing a healthy variety of foods for your son and certainly enjoy an occasional treat - no harm there either. Kids are unlike adults in the fact they eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full! Your son is a typical toddler more than he is a picky eater. I would recommend offering a different food alongside the peas and bread (yes, the acid in tomatoes can contribute to diaper rash) with each meal. Even your son will tire of the same old - same old and try something different if he sees it enough times. The theory is kids may need to be introduced to a new food 7 times before they will try it. You may also consider smaller servings of food 5 times a day instead of three larger meals. Sometimes just looking at too much food is enough to deter kids. At his age there is little more to do besides keep doing what you're doing - provide the variety and don't let food be a battle ground. As for his wieght, both my girls were 18 months and 18 pounds and they are growing up just fine. Everyone is built a little differently.

Liz writes...

Yes, there is a time to allow our children to fall/fail so they can learn to pick themselves up and go forward. Isn't that what is expected of us as adults.

Parents , however, sometimes need to call attention to bullying (especially in Middle School. Children who bully others can often hide it from teachers and are very good at it. I am an educator and I have seen it time and again. Sometimes, children who are targets want to be home schooled just to escape.

In many districts parents compete for for who can do the best sciece fair project. Get rid of this ridiculous competion.

Parents need to be very aware of what is going on in their children's lives--
Older bullied children sometimes see suicide as the only way out. Being the youngest child in your class (especially males) is a recipe for disaster.

Responsibility for parenting is an awesome job--not to be taken likely.

Aviva? writes...

Liz - Parents absolutely need to be aware of what is going on in their children's lives. When our kids are very young, this is easy - we are their transporters, their social secretaries, their is little they can do without us knowing. As they get older though, they make their own plans and they are more mobile. It is during these times, when they resist our input the most, that we actully need to do all we can to stay in touch. The key, of course, is to stay involved without prying too much or doing it in a way that makes them become secretive. Our kids need us for many reasons and one of our greatest challenges as parents is to be able to adapt to their ever changing needs - to grow ourselves from being their administrators to being their consultants.

shawn writes...

Hello. I work 30 hrs wk from my home. This allows me to stay at home with my 20mth old, which is terrific, but I also have a tremendous amount of guilt because I am not paying attention to him all the time. When I meet other moms who say they have their children in all these mommy and me classes and have all these play dates, etc I start to feel bad all over again. My son is a very well rounded individual. HE is independent yet he loves to be around other kids and adults alike. I just want to know that this is not a bad thing that I am not slowing him down developmentally by not having him in all these classes, etc. Truthfully, we can't afford to do all of these classes right now either.
thank you for letting me get this out.
all advise is welcome :-)

Devra? writes...

Hi Shawn,
What you express is a common guilt inducer, it's one of the reasons why we included "Parenting is not a competetitive sport" in The Seven Principles of the Mommy Guilt-free Philosophy. Which, by the way, we will not be testing you on, nor do we expect anyone to adhere to all 7 or do them all in exact order. You know your guilt-o-meter better than anyone, so if a principle helps, follow it, if not? Ditch it and move on. We're not going to stalk you!

Anywho, the reality is Einstein did not have Baby Einstein classes and he turned out okay. The classes don't necessarily automatically make our child someone they aren't. Not every kid benefits from them, particularly if there are no learning nor developmental delays. The classes are fun, entertaining, and sure some are educational, but they are not required by some weird unwritten parenting law in order to have a child, like yours, who is well rounded, independent and happy.

I can't tell you how many parents have told me they are in debt up to their eyeballs to send their child to preschool and later lament that decsion because now they can't afford to send their child to college. I've yet to see a college application or a job application that includes the question "Where did you attend Gymboree?"

Do what you can afford, but having fun with your child need not break your bank. Put on the music, dance in your kitchen!

Tina writes...

Our 2 1/2 year old has been boisterous shall I say since day 1. You could hear him wailing all the way down the hall when he was born. He has developed waay faster than his 4 year old brother in everything except self control! Time out? he doesn't care. Yelling he ignores, reasoning he looks blank. Preschool? He is a good boy. At home? Toys are flying, tantrums are going etc...
What is the solution here?

Aviva? writes...

Tina - Learning to work with our children's personalities is one of the greatest challenges of being a parent. And just when we think we have it all figured out on kid 1, kid 2 comes along and makes us feel totally inadequate all over again! I don't know if I have "the solution" for you but I am happy to offer a few suggestions. It may take several tries until you find the right solution for you and, I hate to tell you this, but what works now may back fire as time goes on. That being said, here are a few tools to add to your tool box. During a fit, just sit quietly by. Make sure no one will get hurt and nothing will be seriously damaged and just sit there. Remain calm, do not attempt to engage in conversation. Just let him have it out. Your presence, even uninvolved, may help to calm him in a way "time out" doesn't seem to be working. When he is settled enough to talk, you may make general statements about the inappropriate behavior and how it hurts you to see him so upset. You shouldn't feel a need to reason with him when he is being unreasonable but you may want to remind yourself he needs your help to better cope with whatever is going on. Some kids are easily overwhelmed and just need a break without it being a punishment. Go with him to a quiet place where he can regroup. We often feel that "time out" needs to be isolated but some kids really need a body near by to help get them through the struggle. Finally, I've said it before and I'll say it again and again and again: CALM, CONSISTENT, CARING. Keep these 3 C's in mind and you'll be just fine.

candace writes...

How do you talk to a 3 year old about not talking to strangers? How do you teach them how to be streetwise?

Any advice or feedback you offer is greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Devra? writes...

Hi Candace,
One of the rules I tell my children is "Anyone your height or smaller you can talk to without really worrying so much." I recommend Gavin De Becker's book "Protecting The Gift" as it addresses real, instead of perceived, danger. The "strangers" aren't the only danger, sadly people we know can be dangerous to children. What we gotta focus upon is teaching our kids about listening to their internal "Uh oh" feeling and then what to do about it and who they can go to for help.

Carlos writes...

I wonder what type of advice you have for parents of teenage children that have problems with alcohol and drug abuse.
My two sons stayed with me after my "amicable" divorce so they could stay in their "well-to-do" high school. To my surprise, rich kids have easier access to drugs than I ever imagined.

I almost lost my older son to drugs. It took all the resolution I could muster and much encouragement from my second wife to kick him out of the house (he was 19 at the time) and let him find rock bottom. Can you imagine the guilt feelings?

I am just wondering, is this what you are talking about in your book?


Rachel writes...

How can I make my six years old daughter to stop being day and night? It's not always. But more often. She is a normal kid with no health problem. Because of that she doesn't feel comfortable at school. What can I do? I already took her to different doctors. They keep saying she will stop one of these days. It's getting too much. She's losing her confidence and keeping to herself. I need help.

Rita writes...

Finally, someone who also agrees that competition is part of life and that we cannot shield them from it nor is it a bad thing to speak the word out loud!!

Shana Roberts writes...

My children both have speech issues. My son will be four this summer and is a little behind the other kids in his class. I'm not creative and I know this. I want to know what I can do for the both of them to get them caught up with other children their age. Something that I can do every day to enhance their chances of catching up.

Aviva? writes...

Shana - Spend as much time as you can engaging in conversation and reading with your kids. You don't need to be creative, just converse with them as much as you can. If you are really concerned about developmental issues, have them evaluated by a professional - their doctor or someone in the school system should be able to help you with this. As for every day activities, you could do "logo reading" with your kids when they are out and about. Have them tell you the names of places they recognize from their signs. This is a great pre-reading skill too! They can also help with the shopping by cutting out pictures of the items you are going to buy and "reading" the list to you in the store. The earlier we can catch and start working with things like this, the greater the benefits. Try not to think of it so much as catching them up with other kids as it is developing their qualities to the fullest. Good luck!

Saras writes...


My 13 month old baby was very good in her eating habits. She used to have 4 healthy meals. Recently she has changed and is just not having anything she would munch a cracker and thats it. She refuses to eat and starts crying on seeing a bowl in my hands. I feel so bad that most of the iam stressed and not feeling good about anything. She not having proper food is disturbing me a lot.

Can you please help me with a solution.

Thank you

Aviva? writes...

Saras - Take a look above at my response to Gretchen. She is dealing with the same type of issue. One other thing to keep in mind is kids can have eating cycles. Your baby may be a great eater one week and the next week it looks like she isn't eating anything. This is normal and will continue throughout life. It is also possible that she is associating the bowl with something negative in her mind. You may try changing dishes, or serving her some food right on the tray or table. Keep providing her with healthy choices and she is bound to come back around for you.

melissa writes...

I feel so guilty that my 17 month old has no set bed time and never sleeps. I don't know what to do and I feel like a horrible mom. He just doesn't want to sleep!

Aviva? writes...

Melissa - I think exhaustion would trump guilt on this one. Many reports are telling us that our society, as a whole, is not getting enough sleep. While this is interesting and a bit disturbing, what are we supposed to do about it? Your first statement here may hold the key to solving the problem. Children thrive on routine and schedule. The very act of establishing a fixed bed time and following a brief routine leading up to it could help. I would also suggest taking a close look at how his days are spent. Is he getting physical activity? Is he watching TV or other screens within the hour leading up to "bed time?" You may even want to monitor the foods he eats to see if they have any effect on his ability to fall asleep. Keep in mind, over-sleepiness can cause an inability to fall asleep as well and kids are great at winding themselves up as they get more tired.

nellie writes...

I am having trouble with my 5-year-old son being so clingy. He screams at day care whenever one small change happens. For instance, if someone comes into the day care like the mail carrier or another parent, he screams and cries and does not want to go to day care. He will be going to public school this year. I am worried. Should I be more firm with him or be concerned that he cries? Help!

ivette writes...

i have 22 month old twin girls I've tried everything to put them to sleep and keep them to sleep at bed time and nothing seems to work sometimes ill stay in the room until they fall asleep but as soon as i try to get up to step out they both start crying hysterically, last night i tried putting them to sleep then stepping out... they cried for 2 and a half hours and i put them back into bed about 100 times also they constantly wake up at night... i dont know what else i can do ???

Ashley writes...

I have a five year old daughter that will be in kindergarten this fall and she just doesn't want to learn her numbers or letters. She knows some of them, but when I try to get her to say them with me or ask is she knows what letter it is, she gets mad. I don't know what to do. I feel like she is going to be behind the rest of the students.

Aviva? writes...

Ashley - Don't fret. Children enter kindergarten at various levels of social and educational development. At this stage of the game, it is probably more important that she enjoy learning rather than she learn specific things. Keep the education fun. Things like logo recognition and picture reading are excellent pre-reading skills you can incorporate into fun activities. She will be learning without even knowing it! Whether you are a coupon shopper or not, let her help you prepare a grocery list by cutting pictures out of the paper. When you get to the store, she can find items on the list. Keep it fun and the education will follow.

Leina writes...

My guilt-o-meter spikes either way. I used to work 8-5 and took her to school in the mornings, but wasn't there after school for her until 5:30pm. Then when I went back to work in February, I switched my hours from 6am-2pm, so I could pick her up, but now I feel guilty for not being there during her openings for school. And since I'm a single mother and have her 24/7, it's harder because when we get home from school I'm exhausted and take a nap instead of helping her or being with her and enjoying that time. This really affects me though. I want her to have fun while it's still daylight and do things with her, but mentally and physically I'm exhausted.

melissa writes...

Hi Im a 23yr old mom already a widow and have a 4yr old son Who wants to know where his dad is?Its been 3 weeks without him. I have tried to explain to him that daddy is an angel and that he is in heaven. How can you explain your child this situation? I notice his getting frustrated and angry with others . I dont know How to handle this situation!please help!!!

Dionne writes...

My son is seven years my guilt-o-meter spikes because I don't have the knowledge to help him at school. He has a learning DIFFICULTY that I don't fully understand, he is exteremly verbal, testing has identified that his verbal skills r in the 70% range for his age yet his operational skills were around 12%. So while he can carry on a very intelligent conversation, he has difficulties putting it on paper. The psychologist we used has said as a result of the gap he presents as though he has a disability, but because of his verbal skiills and level of intelligence she can not say he has a disability, which I know is good news, but he is struggling at school and it is having an impact on his self esteem. i am so lost as to how I should help him, and it makes me feel as though he deserves a mother who would be in a better position to help.

working /travelling mom guilt writes...

My guilt-o-meter is HUGE! I feel guilty when I have to travel for work but excited about being away from home too which brings on more guilt for the excitment.

Then while on a recent trip my children called and were both sobbing into the phone -- mmmooommmy coomme hoooomme, we need you. I'm sure husband put them up to it. Well I felt guilty not being there with them but could only think about going back in the restaurant and having a glass of wine with friends. Fortunately I only have to travel about six times a year but it's always the same.

teri writes...

my son showed a big interest in kids at about 12mnths so i enrolled him in gymboree, he is now 2 and a few months ago decided that he is now petrified of kids. we now go to the park and gymboree when there aren't so many kids. when a child approaches to play, he screams,cries and asks to be held. i dont't pick him up and tell him he's safe, but he's not buying it. what else can i do to overcome this, eventually he'll start pre-k and i'm afraid he'll have a nervous breakdown.

Nellie writes...

To B

Letting your kids deal with their own problems and letting them deal with the consquences is to me Being a bad parent. Kids are not equip to even realizing the consquences to all their actions. If you are not dealing with your kids then some poor teacher or parent is.

I can't believe how many parents have your same view. But I see kids out late at nite tearing up the parks harassing other kids and starting trouble. Because their parents dont want to deal with them.

You have to work with the teacher and your kids because the teacher needs to see you are on the same page.

Letting the kids take the punishment is fine as long as you and the teacher or adult are all on the same page. Teachers are not paid to be your babysitter or to be the parents of your children.

auiio writes...

How can I make my six years old daughter to stop being day and night? It's not always. But more often. She is a normal kid with no health problem. Because of that she doesn't feel comfortable at school. What can I do? I already took her to different doctors. They keep saying she will stop one of these days. It's getting too much. She's losing her confidence and keeping to herself. I need help.

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