Create the family you want to have

Children Are Not Protected By Homophobic Laws

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of blogging for LGBT families day today, which I learned about from Dana Rudolph, over at, I am going to post about the importance of acceptance for all families.  I believe this is my first post that will be considered political, however, there are some things as a therapist, and as a human, that we can not allow to idly slip by without comment.  As best I can, I intend to make this post informative rather than preachy.  You will have to let me know how I do.

As my regular readers know, many of the families I work with are created through adoption.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you also may know that I was raised by my mother, my father and my father’s husband.  In case that is confusing to you, as it has been to so many, my father is gay.

For the past eight years, I have traveled to my state capitol twice a year, first to testify against the Defense of Marriage Act, then, a few years later, to testify for the Civil Marriage Protection Act in front of both the State House of Representatives, as well as the State Senate.  Since my father began his relationship with his husband over thirty years ago, I’ve come to know a little bit about being in a family that is outside the norm and it helps me in my work with families formed through adoption.

In my state, Maryland, as we speak, there are quite a few people interested in the topic of gay marriage.  Earlier this year, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, the bill I mentioned earlier, was passed and signed into law with a start date next year.  This bill makes marriage between same-sex couples legal.  As you could probably predict, this has a few people pretty riled up.  It’s a pretty sure bet that the law will be taken to referendum and we will be voting on whether it will actually be enacted or not this coming November at the same time that we vote for the presidential candidates.  Please pause now for a moment to consider how it would feel for your family to be voted on.  That is how I feel.  Now, take a moment to feel that way and add to it the knowledge that in each and every state that has had a similar vote on your family, the people voted against acknowledging the union of your parents.  In case you are having a hard time putting that one together, let me sum it up for you.  It sucks.  But enough about feelings, let’s talk about facts.

As a social worker, it is my job to support and protect families and the safety and security of children.  By legally recognizing all families, we are protecting not only the couples, but the children of those couples.  The example I am about to give may seem counter-intuitive, but please allow me to break down how this works by giving you a composite of a few families I have worked with over the years presenting a situation I have seen too many times.  As you read it, please remember, I’m a therapist so I see people who are going through a hard time:

Susan, an attorney, and Vanessa, a former educator, then stay-at-home-mother, have been together for 15 years.  Seven years ago, they decided to adopt a child from another country that does not allow same-sex couples to adopt.  Consequently, the couple decided that the person that looked best on paper, and who had the best health benefits package through work, would be the one to adopt.  Susan adopted their daughter, Kayla, as a single parent and the couple planned that once she was formally adopted by Susan, they would get a second-parent adoption, which is legal in Maryland, so that Vanessa would be legally recognized as  Kayla’s mother.  After adopting Kayla, as happens to all parents, life sped up.  The second parent adoption didn’t happen.  Susan and Vanessa needed to pay for unanticipated costs like speech and mental health therapy for Kayla.  Vanessa knew she was Kayla’s mom and assumes that Susan honors that as well.  After all, Vanessa stays home to care for Kayla and, were they in a traditional family, she does a lot of what we would call the “primary caretaking” for Kayla.

That is why, when Susan tells Vanessa that she has decided to end the relationship, Vanessa is shocked!  Remember, Susan is an attorney, she quickly enlists the help of friends to create a custody agreement, reminding Vanessa that she has not been legally recognized as a parent to Kayla.  Vanessa realizes she has little or no recourse but to sign the agreement.  After all, Susan has all the money, and Vanessa can no longer offer to be a stay-at-home mother to Kayla since she will not be getting spousal support.  After speaking to an attorney, Vanessa finds out that in Maryland, the law has rarely recognized the “de-facto” parent, which is the only recognition Vanessa could hope to get at this point.  Vanessa is devastated as she sees Susan meet a new woman who then begins to parent Kayla as well, while she watches her own relationship with Kayla diminish before her eyes.   While you are imagining what this does to Susan, please imagine what this does to Kayla as well!  Whereas children with married parents who are divorcing have the protection of the law, which recognizes their legal relationship to both parents, Kayla is left watching not only the relationship between her parents dissolve, but her relationship with her primary parent diminish as well.

I know it seems strange to make a case for marriage by highlighting the protections for children of divorced parents.   I actually debated for a while before writing that example, because, you see, as an adult raised by gay men, I feel pressure to say that our families are the best in response to all the attacks we get and the headlines I see everyday like this one and this one.  But the truth is, our families are just like all the others.  We have happy and sad times, times of wealth and of poverty, and ups and downs in relationships.  We don’t always act in ways that we wish later that we feel good about in hindsight.  I will point out for the record that Massachusetts, the state where same-sex marriage has been legal the longest, has the lowest divorce rate of all the states so this is not a typical situation by any means.  But it does highlight the need for protection for children.

After all, marriage isn’t only about loving each other.  In the way it is constructed in the United States, it is not solely a religious recognition of a relationship either.  It is also about legal protection, and the rights of families that are connected via marriage, like it or not.  My father and his husband have spent thousands of dollars over the years to have the same civil protections that my husband and I had the day we married almost 13 years ago.

Now that we are looking at the cost to the children of having parents who are not allowed to have a legally recognized relationship, let us also take a quick look at the research as well.  I will note here that all professional mental health organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  Also, in a report released last year titled, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” recent research showed that among other things:

  • Children in LGBT families, while overall they have the same incidence of mental health issues as other children, they are more likely to have a mental health issue in states where their families are not recognized.
  • Children in LGBT families have more fear than other children that their families will be broken up.
  • There are still states where children are left in foster care even though there are LGBT parents willing to adopt them because the state does not allow LGBT parents to adopt.
  • Children with LGBT parents are more likely to be denied adequate assistance from the state, since their entire family is not legally recognized, the state does not always take all family members into account when providing assistance and may give families headed by LGBT couples less financial help.
  • Children with LGBT parents are not financially protected when a non-legally recognized parent is injured or killed.

You can find a good break-down of this report here.

A final thought about this topic.  The argument I hear over and over, even from people who know I have same-sex parents is that they want to protect their children from knowing about same-sex couples.  Parents reason that, while they do not want children with same-sex parents to be discriminated against, neither do they want their children learning in school that being gay is “normal or acceptable.”  People really say these things to me.  My response, if I am being honest is this: Being gay is not about sex.  Get your brain out of the bedroom!  What makes a relationship is not what you do in there!  A relationship is made from mutual love, care and respect.  And really, is your concern that your child’s school is going to teach about how gay people have sex?  Let’s get real.  Schools don’t teach about how straight people have sex.  That’s a debate for another day.

If you are worried about how your child is going to respond to knowing that gay people exist, I wish you could see the video (it has since been removed from youtube) of little Calen when he first meets a gay man who says he has a husband.  It was an endearing little video.  Here is an excerpt of the transcript (read it with the lisp of a four or five-year old):

“I usually see husbands and wives…but this is the first time I’ve seen husbands and husbands. How funny. So, that means you love each other? Yeah. You’re much alike — you’re much alike. Okay I’m going to play ping-pong now. You can play if you want to.”

Yup, that’s pretty much how it goes.  I hope your kids can handle all that struggle :).

What do you struggle with when it comes to this issue?  Let’s have a discussion here for anyone that is interested.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | keeping children safe, Parenting | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

English: Couple on the street with child, Cent...

English: Couple on the street with child, Centro Habana, Havana, Cuba. December 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

I’m going to take a little trip away from talking about parent/child relationships to talking about the relationship between the parents.  Just like parenthood, it is impossible for anyone to predict before entering into a relationship just what will happen next.  No matter what the reason you had for building your family by birthing, fostering, or adopting children, it will, without question, change your relationship with your child’s other parent and may, at times, leave you scratching your head about whether to stay or go in this relationship.

I have personally found, and I believe it is also true for my clients, that during each stage of my own children’s development I re-live parts of my own childhood.  It starts in infancy.  It was when my children were infants that I looked at my daughters while rocking them and wondered, “Did my parents look at me this way?  Did they feel this awe?  This fierce protective feeling?  Did they love me this much?”  For me, for those questions, the answer was a yes, I don’t remember myself as an infant, but I know it in my soul.  I have other, unanswered questions about other stages…the vast majority of us do.  Our most intense questions seem to be the ones we have not resolved.  People with a history of trauma tend to ask whether their child feels protected.  We may compare the expectations of our parents for us to our expectations for our own children.  When we pause to think about it, the questions can bubble up seemingly out of nowhere.  All parents- even child therapists- wade through these swampy waters.

I can not think of a situation that raises intense questions more for any parent than when the relationship between parents is going through a major transition.  The start of parenthood is a major transition.  No longer do you have the option of pretending that you are not connected to each other for life.  The time for walking away from each other and having the ability to completely cut ties if things go wrong is past.  Even if someone seems to have walked away, rest assured, they may be gone, but they are not forgotten by anyone, nor have they forgotten.  Similarly, your decision about leaving a relationship also becomes infinitely more complex as you are no longer considering only how this change would impact you but, I assume if you are reading this post, you are also someone who would consider whether that change would impact your children as well.  I wish I had easy answers.  I don’t, but I have, throughout the years, come across some helpful questions and observations that I use when I have a client, or client’s parents trying to work through these issues.  With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to help you in your journey.

1.  This first question, I’m going to paraphrase from memory and it comes from author and coach, Cheryl Richardson (her most recent book is “You Can Create an Exceptional Life*” and her radio show is call “Coach on Call” on Hay House Radio).  It goes something like this: “If you decided to believe that from this moment on that your partner was never going to change a single thing about themselves, would you want to stay with them?”  Let me be more specific: if they never gained or lost a single pound, if they never took you out more, nagged less, spent more or less time with the children, at work or with friends, etc. would you still want to stay with them?  This is important because despite our longing to change people, we really can’t.  There is no magical combination of words that will create change for a person unless they are ready to change.  Take a moment to consider the possibility that your partner will never change, then think about if you still want to stay.

2.  If you decide that you would not want to stay with this person unless they make changes, what is it that you absolutely require from your partner in order to stay?  In other words, what are the nonnegotiables in order for you to want to be in a relationship?  A little warning for this step is that this is a question that tends to bring out our inner critic.  The inner critic tells us we should have known from the beginning that we needed that and that it is too late to ask for it now.  After all, you decided to have children with this person so, as the saying goes, “you made your bed and now you have to lie in it,” and so on and so on.  The critic can be relentless. Let me strongly encourage you to take a moment to tell your inner critic that you are not making the decision based on this question alone, only that this is a part of knowing what to do next.  That being said, what is your bottom line on staying in this relationship?  Requiring the absence of abuse, emotional manipulation, and dishonesty can seem like no-brainers to some of us, but, if those are things we grew up with, we can easily come to expect that they are part of life and are to be expected.  Let me assure you, they are not a part of every relationship and if it is your belief that they are, please contact a therapist to begin to work on loving yourself more.  I have met too many people who have said to me that they are staying with the person they are with because they don’t cheat and don’t hit.  I’m going to encourage you to go beyond this.  If you can’t think of the relationship you would want for yourself, think of the relationship you hope your children will have with a romantic partner one day.

3.  This next one is a helpful “re-frame.”  I got it from listening to Robert Holden (author of Shift Happens* and host of a radio show with the same title on Hay House Radio).  He makes an important point that even if you decide to “end” what you think of as your relationship with your child’s other parent, you are really only ending one part of your relationship.  In reality, what you are thinking of as an ending is actually a transition from one kind of relationship to another- from romantic, to co-parenting.  If you are anticipating this change, please remember that people can act differently in different situations.  I have seen parents where, if I’m being honest, I understand why the relationship ended with their partner, however, that same person can be a “good enough” parent.  Sure, they may not do things the way you do them.  But, just take a moment to think of every way you have ever seen someone fold clothes.  Does everyone fold them the same way?  Of course not!  Even if the clothes are folded differently are they still folded?  Yes.  Sure, you may have a preference for how things are done, but your life will be easier if you stay open to the possibility (as long as the other parent is not abusive) that your child’s other parent may have an alternative and acceptable way of parenting as well.  Having this attitude can improve your relationship whether or not it stays romantic or transitions to co-parenting.

4.  This might be the most important of my tips.  For the sake of your relationships with your child’s other parent, your child, and yourself, take really, really good care of yourself.  The only thing we can control is how we react to different situations.  We cannot change people with ultimatums, threats, and resentment.  What we can do is to really take care of ourselves.  Have you been telling yourself that as soon as your partner’s issues are taken care of you will____ (fill in the blank, lose weight, stop smoking, meditate)?  Guess what?  When you do that you are holding your partner up to a higher standard than you are holding yourself up to.  Take time to be the kind of person you want to be with.  Follow your interests, be loving, take care of your chores around the house, laugh often.  When we do these things there are a few possibilities.  One possibility is that you will find that you are happier and see how you may have been contributing to the unhappiness in the relationship.  Another is that you will find that you are strong enough to leave the relationship if it becomes apparent that it is not healthy for you.  Still another is that your partner may take notice of your positive changes and begin to make some as well by your example.  I know your children will do just that also.

Perhaps the overall question of staying or going is the wrong one after all.  More importantly, we want to ask, “Who do I want to be in this relationship?”  If we can ask and answer that question, then work to get to be that person, then we can find happiness either in or outside of any relationship.  It is when we stop looking to outside relationships to fix something inside that we find ourselves and when you find yourself to be a person you will always like, that you will always want to be with and around, that you will also find you are able to have relationships with others that meet your expectations as well.  I strongly encourage anyone considering separation or divorce from their child’s other parent to seek therapists knowledgable in helping parents to create a healthy co-parenting relationship.

*You can find the links to purchase any books mentioned in this post by clicking the Amazon widgets button at the top, right hand corner of this page.  See disclaimer page.

May 30, 2012 Posted by | parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, thinking about therapy? | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help4yourfamily! 5/28/2012


Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In the past week I have had two quotes come to visit me several times.  One has been a favorite of mine for a long time, Kahlil Gibran’s quote from his poem, On Children.  “Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”  The other quote, I had never heard before last week, which is pretty surprising to me.  It comes from Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…and the day you find out why.”  Each of these quotes reminds us that our children are more than just our children.  We each, all of us, are put on this earth with special, unique skills and talents.  Our children are not here to please us but to meet their own unique purpose and to believe that we control that purpose is to tell ourselves a fantastical lie.  Many parents buy into this fantasy with disasterous results.  To let go of the fantasy that we control the exact ways in which our children will form into adults is to free ourselves and our children from the inevitable feeling of failure that old attitude would bring.  This weeks affirmation is:

I allow my child to explore his or her own unique talents and abilities.  I work on finding mine as well.

This does not mean that I must drop everything and spend all of my time and money on getting my daughter to dance class.  What it means is that I am accepting of her dreams and support her in the best way I can now.  It also means that I model for her through my own openness to my unique talents and abilities.

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May 28, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, child development | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Getting what they deserve

My first testimonial 🙂

Shannon Mackie

I’m a regular reader of Help 4 Your Family by therapist Kate Oliver and one of her posts from April has really stuck with me. In the post, she describes how to respond to a child’s demands. Here’s an excerpt from the post, titled “End the Hassle: Tell Kids what they Deserve“:

Kid: Mom, the other kids in my class don’t have to sit in a booster car seat any more! (feel free to imagine this as a whine)

Mom: You deserve to be as safe as possible and the booster keeps you safe.

My first grader, BE, has a “friend” who doesn’t always treat her very well. The two of them recently got in trouble at school and BE told me all about it (not voluntarily) when she got home. I explained to her that she deserves to have nice friends that don’t encourage her to do…

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May 27, 2012 Posted by | blog awards and recognition, discipline, help for parents | Leave a comment

Who’s Who in the World of Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In the field of mental health, you will come across many titles for professionals.  It can be confusing to understand what the differences are.  Here is a quick primer to walk you through the different types of helping professionals in the mental health field.

Social Workers- We typically have a Master’s Degree followed by a few years of supervision with a mandatory test to obtain a license.  Each state has different standards for Social Workers and it is a good idea to check what a license means in your state.  In my state, Maryland, in order to have my clinical license I needed to complete my Master’s in Social Work, then have a minimum of two years and 1500 hours of supervised work time.  After that I needed to pass my licensure exam.  In my state there are also Social Workers that have other certifications that mean they do not have as much training or experience, and or that they declined to take or did not pass the licensing exam meaning they still must be supervised by someone trained to supervise Social Workers. The lens Clinical social workers use when working with clients is typically to look at a person in the context of their environment to see what environmental stressors a client has and to work with a client to see how we can help them better manage within the system they live in.  Social Workers do not prescribe medication

Psychologists have a doctoral degree.  They also are required to take an exam following their degree and need to be supervised during and after school for a period of time before practicing without being supervised.  Psychologists tend to look at patients (Social Workers call them clients, psychologists call them patients) through more of a medical model i.e.- in what ways is this person not functioning?  What are the symptoms…let’s treat the symptoms.  Psychologists do not prescribe medication.

Professional Counselors have varying ways to describe themselves, Licensed Family Counselors, or Licensed Marriage and Family Counselors.  Like Social Workers, Professional Counselors have Master’s Degrees with supervision and testing following their Graduate Degrees, however their Master’s is in Counseling rather than Social Work and they are more likely to be trained in methods akin to a Psychologist, and/or have specific training for their license such as specialization in Marriage and Family work rather than working with individuals.  They do not prescribe medication.

Pastoral Counselors have a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling.  They come to counseling with a spiritual perspective often related to a specific religion and will bring in religious and mental health elements into their work with a client.  They do not prescribe medication.

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors.  Psychiatrists have been through a full medical training with all the tests involved with becoming a doctor but, just as a Pediatrician specializes in working with children, Psychiatrists specialized in mental health.  They most definitely tend to see patients through the medical model and do prescribe medication.  Psychiatrists often meet with patients for about 30 minutes and do medication monitoring.  I would highly recommend that anyone seeing a Psychiatrist also see a Psychologist or Social Worker as it is unlikely you will be getting any talk therapy with a Psychiatrist.

Mental health providers may be found in many different places, schools, hospitals, and in private practice.  They may provide individual, group, couples or family therapy, or a combienation of all of those.  No one group of practitioners has been found to be more successful in treatment than any other group.  However, there is one factor that increases the effectiveness of treatment across mental health provider types.  It will probably come as no big surprise that regardless of training background or methodology, the strength of the relationship between a client/patient and the provider  is the number one predictor for success in treatment.  So, if you see someone a few times, and the chemistry is just not there, it is probably time to switch to another provider.

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May 25, 2012 Posted by | thinking about therapy? | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Attachment Therapist on Attachment Parenting

At the Baby Loves Disco party Sunday afternoon.

At the Baby Loves Disco party Sunday afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been a bit more attuned to the media’s interpretation of parents recently but I’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot of people talking about attachment parenting being the newest thing.  I’ve known about attachment parenting for years now.  Just like with any other parenting style, the media reports tend to focus on extremes where in order to say you are an attachment parent you must rigidly follow the tenants of wearing your baby everywhere, co-sleeping, and breast-feeding past the societal norms for the United States.  Attachment parenting becomes just like “tiger moms,” “helicopter parents,” and “back-stage parents,” so that you either you are or you are or are not with no in-between.

I would like to suggest that we all take a breath for a moment.  Put your hand on your heart.  While you are at it, breathe a few times slowly, in and out.  Ask yourself this question.  “Is this true?”  Is it true that so many people subscribe to rigid parenting styles?  Or are we all just trying to get along the best way we know how with the information we have?

I would like us all to dial it down a notch.  Here are the things I care about as an attachment therapist– meaning that I am a therapist that looks at the attachment styles between parents and children and helps to guide children with insecure attachment styles toward a more secure attachment:

Do you have a genuine, loving relationship with your child?

If not, are you working to make your relationship genuine and loving?

Do you care more about your relationship with your child than you care about being right or dominating your child?

Are you playful and loving with your child when you can be?

Do you set appropriate limits?

Does your child look to you for comfort and protection and do they have faith that you will care for them?

Are you empathic toward and accepting of your child’s feelings, even if they are different from yours?

Do you have insight into the parts of parenting that are hard for you and do you work to change the parenting moments or actions you are not proud of?

These are the foundations of parents that form secure attachments with their children.  Dan Hughes, author of several books, including one of my favorites, “Building the Bonds of Attachment,” (you can purchase this book by following the link “Amazon widgets” at the top right of this page*)calls this way of parenting PLACE parenting.  PLACE stands for Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic.  I find using this way of parenting builds a strong bond between parent and child and is especially useful for the children I see with attachment disturbance.

I do my best to use it with my children as well, but, guess what?  I’m human.  Sometimes, like when I take my oldest clothes shopping and she refuses to try on a single item of clothing even though she complains several times a week that she has nothing to wear, I lose it.  If you were in Target with us last Tuesday, I apologize.  Seriously.  But, just like when our children make mistakes, so do we need to gather ourselves together and learn from those things we do that we wish we could take back and move on.  It is my strong belief that the best parenting style for any parent is the one that works best for them!  The style that most truly matches your internal desire and ability to parent, and which models a life you would like your child most to emulate.  I imagine that would be a life in which: they are free to love themselves without being narcissistic, they care for others so that they might experience loving relationships, and they explore their own interests and build on their own talents and abilities, among other things.

What do you think creates a strong foundation in a parent/child relationship?

*see disclaimer page

May 23, 2012 Posted by | attachment, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 5/21/2012

an animated clock

an animated clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Get ready to laugh and tell me I’m wrong!  I have heard many versions of this affirmation but the person I got it from is the mother of affirmations herself, Louise Hay.  This week’s affirmation is:

Everything is happening at just the right time.

I know you do not believe me but give me a minute to talk you through it.  I know it feels like things happen too slow, too fast, or at just the wrong time!  This affirmation requires a little faith that there is a plan for us.  Even if you are not a believer in a higher power, doesn’t it just make life simpler to believe that everything is happening at just the right time?  I use this affirmation when I am running late and, I’m happy to tell you that when I use it, and believe it, everything does happen at just the right time.  One time I used it recently was when I was running late to meet my daughter at school because I had promised I would eat lunch with her.  I hate running late.  I decided that I was going to obey traffic laws, and I just repeated to myself over and over that things happen at just the right time.  I was still five minutes late, but guess what?  The lunch before my daughter’s ran over by five minutes and I actually ended up entering the cafeteria at the same time she did.  I also had not stressed myself out on the way there, which would require me to calm myself down before I could be present for my daughter.

You can use this affirmation for big things too.  Birth, death, illness, and entering a romantic relationship, are all things that come to mind.  Before you think I am trivializing any of those transitions I just mentioned, I want you to know I have experienced all of them, just like you.  Carrying with me the belief that everything is happening at just the right time even if I don’t understand it, gets me through a lot and I will share a personal story to demonstrate how this affirmation has come true in my own life.

When I was a child, just about to turn nine, my older brother, who was just about to turn 12, died suddenly from an undiagnosed illness the summer before he would be entering middle school.  I would never wish this on anyone, and no- there is never a good time for this to happen, but there might be a right time.  Move forward in time to the night I met my husband for the first time.  I was at a party and one of my brother’s friends, who I had not seen since he died, walked into the party with another friend.  He actually was pretty shocked to see me and had a pretty strong reaction when he realized who I was.  We started talking and he introduced me to his friend- my future husband.  Had my brother lived and gone on to middle school, he and his friend would have probably drifted apart, since they were going to go to different schools.  His friend might not have had the same memories of me that caused him to come right too me to talk and introduce me to his friend.  My husband and I might not have had a strong immediate connection and who knows what might have happened?  I can’t imagine my life without the husband and children that I have.  I wouldn’t change a thing about them or about my life right now.  This is one way that I make sense of the death of my brother.  Everything happens at just the right time.

Even if it is hard to believe right now, try this affirmation out.  Say it many, many times to yourself.  Remind yourself that you don’t have to know the “why” of things happening, but that they are happening at just the right time.

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May 21, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s Not Just Strangers- spotting potential abusers: Part II

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While 96% of all abusers are men,* and men tend to be the focus of this article, it is important that we refrain from trivializing the role of women as abusers as well.  In this article, I speak mostly about men, but the same holds true for women.  Here are some tips to spot potential perpetrators or unsafe situations:

1. Look for people who are more interested in your children than their own children.  For example, if you go to a birthday party and see the father of the birthday kid paying more attention to your child than their child, take a moment to listen to the words they are saying to your child.  Are they trying to draw your child away from the crowd?  Are they excessively flattering?  Are they trying to get your child to come for a playdate even when your child seems reluctant?

2.  Pay attention to any men who are overly willing to be available to babysit, especially if they are willing to put off other, adult activities to be more available to your child for one on one time.  This is true for teenage boys and boys or girls that you know have issues but just like to hang around with your children even though your children are significantly younger.  Kids who are developmentally younger than their chronological age will still begin sexual development at the same age and if they feel more comfortable with children their own age, they are more likely to try out sexual behavior on younger children who will let them get away with it.

3.  “Grabbers” are perpetrators that take the opportunity when it presents itself.  These are, for example, the in-home, daycare provider’s brother who came to visit for a week and was in the home when you dropped your child off.  You can protect your children from those by asking any adult who is in charge of your child to tell you if there will be any other adults around your child.  If you notice a new face when you take your child to school or child care, don’t be afraid to ask.  Just do what I do and say you are an over protective parent.  Own it 🙂

4.  “Groomers” are people who take time to get a child (and parent) comfortable with them.  They may take a long time to even begin doing anything to the child.  In the meantime, they begin to seamlessly insert themselves into the family and over time, develop a relationship with the children.  Listen to your gut if you get a feeling about someone, take a minute to ask your child and get curious about how they feel when that person is around.

5.  Be visible.  Parents who are a known presence at school and day-care are less likely to have children who are victims.  Show up unannounced at child care and for school lunches if your child’s school allows it.  Volunteer a few times a year so you get to know teachers and other school personnel and they get to know you.  Know your childcare provider and, if you do not trust his or her decision-making, get a new one.

6.  Be aware of people in your own family who you know are perpetrators.  This may sound obvious, however, I have met enough people by now who allowed their child to be around the grandparent who abused the parent, yet the parent felt if they were watchful enough, their child would not get hurt, or hoped that the perpetrator had changed enough that they would not do that to their grandchild.  Similarly, if you are a divorced parent and abuse was an issue during your marriage, or you knew that your child’s other parent was harming or neglecting the children, if possible, protect your child from being alone with that parent.  Wikipedia reports that, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that for each year between 2000 and 2005, “female parents acting alone” were most likely to be perpetrators of child abuse.”  **  If someone is a known perpetrator to you, do not allow your child to be alone with them.  Stepfathers and fathers respectively are the most likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual abuse for girls 10 and older according to

7.  Listen to your child.  Children, especially young children, often disclose information that we do not catch if we are not listening.  If a child says something that causes you concern, be curious and ask them about it to clarify what they are talking about.  Sometimes because our young children are so sexually innocent, they don’t even know that there was anything out-of-order with what happened and they just tell you about it.

I want to conclude by being perfectly clear, that there is no guarantee that our children will never deal with an abusive caretaker.  However, the likelihood that a child will identify a problem to you sooner, so that you may take action immediately will be increased by talking to your child and being aware of the tricks of abusers.

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May 18, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children from Abuse- Part I

child abuse

child abuse (Photo credit: Southworth Sailor)

I hate to break this to you in case you didn’t already know it but strangers are not the main cause of harm to children.  While we talk to children about “stranger danger,” as parents, we sometimes fail to talk to them about ways to protect themselves from people they come across in their daily lives who may be harmful to them.  Statistically, children are much more likely to be harmed by someone they know.  In cases of sexual abuse, for example, 90% of child victims know the perpetrator in some way^.  In 1994, Dr. Gene Abel, conducted a study of 453 pedophiles.  In total, those pedophiles admitted to over 67,000 victims, averaging out to 148 victims per perpetrator^^.  In my own experience, I have seen that most perpetrators have multiple victims and that sexual abuse is much less likely to be reported and prosecuted in the United States.  In this post, I am focusing on sexual abuse since that is the most under-reported of the abuses, however, you can use many of the same rules for neglect and physical abuse.  Rather than encouraging fear, I would like to tell you some ways you can prepare your children in case anyone ever does try to inappropriately touch or discipline them.  In my next post, I will tell you about signs you can look for to prevent abuse before it occurs.

Tips for teaching your young children about abuse prevention:

1.  Talk with your young child about the rules about private parts, namely that: private parts are the parts covered by your bathing suit; the only people who can touch private parts are parents when you are taking a bath or helping to change a diaper or going potty, and doctors during an exam.

2. Define other types of abuse as well: if someone hits you and leaves a mark, or does not take care of you when they are supposed to- like a babysitter who would leave a child home alone, then come back before the parents get home.  Tell your child that no one has permission to hit them even if they say they do, and that no one is supposed to leave them home alone.

3.  Teach children that if anyone tries to do anything you have just taught them is abusive they should: 1. say no, 2. get away, 3.  tell someone (list a few people it is okay to tell).

4.  Teach kids that people who would try to touch private parts, or hit, or neglect kids can be tricky.  If someone says they are going to hurt someone else if you tell something, don’t be tricked!  Tell!

5.  Teach children to listen to the “uh oh” feeling.  If anyone they know gives them an “uh oh” feeling (usually you feel it in your tummy, throat or head) then instruct your child to tell you as soon as possible.

6.  If you see your child acting strange around another adults and it makes you uncomfortable, when they are away from that person, gently bring up that you noticed they seemed different and get curious about why that might be.

7.  Encourage your child to build a vocabulary for feelings and talk about feelings in your family.  If you have difficulty with this, remember our affirmation for last week was: My children give me constant opportunities to learn and grow.  See, you have a learning, growing opportunity right here.

8.  Keep an open dialogue with children about okay and not okay touches.  Allow your child to speak up if they do not want to hug or kiss someone and back them up if they say or use body language to show that they do not want someone touching them.  Give them alternatives to help them problem solve like a fist bump, a high-five, or a hand shake, or if you find yourself witnessing your child being uncomfortable with a person trying to touch them, you can say something like, “Jake’s not quite ready for a hug, how about a high-five?”

Watch the language and tone that you use during your conversations with kids about this topic.  Children can misinterpret a very serious parent for an angry parent and feel like they are in trouble if you take the conversation too seriously. Keep the conversation light.  Remember Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?  If you don’t remember him, think of a gentle teacher you have met and emulate them.  Just like talking to kids about “stranger danger” this is not a one-time conversation.  Check in periodically with kids about what they would do if anyone ever tried to touch them.

Do you have questions about protecting your children from abuse?  Please feel free to ask them in the comments section.




May 16, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Monday is Parenting Affirmation Day! 5-14-2012

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Monday, May 14th- Parent Affirmation day at Help 4 Your Family! Today’s affirmation is one I use a lot:

I give my children age appropriate time and space to solve their own problems.

This affirmation is good for many kinds of situations.  One is watching our children struggle with something.  This affirmation helps us to remember that there are some struggles that are age appropriate and that our children will benefit from resolving on their own because they want to learn it.  Rebecca from Mom Meets Blog writes about this in her sweet post about her son that you can read here.

Another situation where this affirmation is helpful is when our children are struggling with something and do not want to learn it- but we know it is age appropriate for them to do so.  A child who works really hard to get to you to give him the answers to homework assignments would be an example of a time when you can repeat this affirmation to yourself to remind yourself that you are helping, not hurting, your child by allowing them to experience the struggle.

Also, I use the words “age appropriate” purposely.  I find that as parents we sometimes forget that as sophistocated as our children may seem, that there are some expectations that may not be age appropriate- expecting a 10-year-old to clean the kitchen to the same standards as an adult, or telling a child they must work things out with a bully at school who is threatening violence are two examples that come to mind.

Saying this affirmation over and over throughout the day makes it become a part of you and of your regular parenting practice.

When have you had to use an affirmation like this?

Do you have a parenting affirmation you would like to share?

Related articles:

Monday is Parenting Affirmation Day! (

Parenting With Affirmations (

Chronological vs. Developmental Age (

I Was a Cereal Killer (

May 14, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents | , , , , , | 6 Comments

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