Create the family you want to have

The Importance of Delight

Latino Children Play Swing

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit:

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Do you have a child that wants you to watch them play video games or swing on the swing?  Do they want you to watch them do their 100th cartwheel for the day, or watch them spin until they are too dizzy to stand?  Do you find it exhausting sometimes?

Part of what they are doing is trying to recreate a moment when they did something particularly cute, or said something a certain way or made a certain face that brought you a moment of pure happiness and they basked in the glow of your joyful feeling over what they did.  When my children were younger, whenever they added an adult word to their vocabulary and used it correctly, I always found it so endearing.  Having a three-year old say, “Actually Mommy, I would prefer to wear a different dress today.” with their little wide, innocent eyes, it just made me giggle.  We call that moment delight.  In this post, I am going to talk about delight for most children and parents.  In Friday’s post, I am going to continue the conversation by writing about the role and importance of delight for children with attachment issues.

The Importance of Delight for All Children

While you may think that delight is just a nice thing that happens every once in a while between parents and children, it is actually quite important in the scheme of things for parents to delight in children and for children to be delighted in.  What we think of as a passing, silly, or endearing moment, (and this is especially true for younger children) actually helps to fire off thousands of neural transmissions per second in your child’s brain!  Delight enhances healthy brain development.  By delighting in young children, we help them to build neural passageways that encourage them to continue experiencing genuine joy (not the false kind that people think they get when doing drugs, for example).

Some parents worry that delighting in children too much will spoil them.  Let’s be honest…children are not always delightful.  I did not glow with excitement when my daughter went through the short period of time where she let me know she needed her diaper to be changed by showing me the poop on her finger that she got there by fishing it out of her diaper.  I am not in any way encouraging you to force delight nor do I intend to imply that you must live in a constant state of delighting in your children.  What I am encouraging is that you take the genuine moments of delight that you do actually have and really feel them.  Beyond giving your child validation and all the mapping of their neural transmissions, you are also giving yourself a gift.  When your child is being delighted in, genuinely, they know it, you can increase the positive feelings by laughing and looking them in the eye to tell them how delightful they are.  When you do this, you are creating an endorphin rush (like the one that comes with exercise or new love) for you and your child.  These are the feel good chemicals- the only ones, the natural ones- we want our children to get high from.  Allowing these special moments of time to happen naturally enhances our parent-child relationships, builds our likelihood of connecting to the idea that being together equates to feeling happy, and, well, to break it down to it’s simplest parts, it just feels really good.

As parents, we can sometimes feel like our children don’t need us to do anything with or for them if they are doing fine on their own.  In fact, they do need us to periodically delight in them.  Finding times when we feel genuinely delighted in our children is important.  When we do this, even though they may still ask you to watch them do the same thing over and over again, they become much more likely to accept this response: “I love watching you do things, but you deserve to have me watch you when I can give you my full attention.  Let me (fill in the blank) and then I can give you three minutes to watch you do that.”  When you set limits with your child in this loving way, we can also avoid the hassled, harried feeling of always putting them off.  Additionally, as they grow, they learn that they do not have to demand moments of delight, they are built into this loving family you have created.

By building moments of delight with our children from a young age, we have more good thoughts to call on when they are being difficult- giving us more patience for their behaviors.  We aren’t the only ones that get good memories to look back on.  When we set a limit with our children that they do not like, they are also able to weigh it against all the shared memories of delightful encounters we had together and are less likely to engage in all that teen and pre-teen angst we hear so much about or to try to find their delight in unhealthy ways outside of the family.

What delightful thing has your child done recently?  Please feel free to share your delight!

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June 13, 2012 Posted by | attachment, help for parents, Parenting | 9 Comments

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

Laugh and your family laughs with you

One of the funniest kids I've met while travel...

Written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

After a couple of days of heavy posts, it’s time to lighten the mood.  I’ll post about good programs tomorrow like I said I would, but for now, let’s talk about bringing a little light and levity to our everyday life with our children.  Sometimes, all you can do is laugh…or cry.  I would encourage you to laugh.  Sure, I could tell you about all the research that tells you that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine for many situations, but you can easily look that up, or you can just trust me on this one.  Laugh more.  Build humor into your family system.  Make sure that your children understand your humor (even if they do not like it).  Most importantly, teach your children to laugh at themselves by laughing at yourself.  My younger daughter does an impression of my husband when he is telling her to clean up that is hilarious.  We all laugh, then we clean up.

This morning, when I grumbled at my older daughter to rinse her mouth after brushing her teeth (who doesn’t rinse after you went to the trouble of brushing!?) because I’m tired of paying an extra car payments worth of money every time we go to the dentist, I went up to the bathroom after she went to school and found a post-it note she put up in the bathroom to remind herself to rinse:

In case you can’t read that, it said “RINSE OR DIE!”

Parenting does not have to be a series of serious teaching lessons all put together.  It can be easy to forget this. You can teach, love, learn and grow with fun and laughter.  Have a child that asks obvious questions all the time?  Find a code word, like “marshmallows” that tells them they are asking a question they already know the answer to and use it whenever they ask nonsense questions.

Kid:  “What’s for dinner (while they are staring at you cooking a hamburger)”

Parent: “Marshmallows.”

Kid: “When are we going to get there?” (on a trip they have been on 100 times).

Parent: “When we pass the sign with the marshmallows on it.”

Kid: “Do I have to do my homework?”

Parent: “Just do it until you get to the part about the marshmallows.”

Marshmallow Nightmares!!

Marshmallow Nightmares!! (Photo credit: katerha)

It might drive them crazy, but it keeps you a little more sane while you focus on a fun way to fit more marshmallows into your life.

Laugh together over silly jokes or silly things they say.  Make sure you are laughing with not at.  No one like to feel like people are laughing at them but laughing together as a family brings your family closer and reminds us why we brought these “no-rent paying, mess making little people,”  as my husband likes to say, into your home in the first place.

How do you laugh with your family?  Please fell free to share a funny story that makes you smile 🙂

April 19, 2012 Posted by | help for parents, Parenting | , , , , , | 16 Comments

What to expect from this blog

Are you a parent that feels guilty a lot over things you said or did with your children?  Do you feel guilty over things you didn’t say or do with your children?  Join the club.  We have all been there.  My hope is to make this blog about helping you to find resources to overcome the guilt and shame many parents come to find is a perpetual part of parenting.

My name is Kate Oliver.  I’m writing this blog not only as a parent of two myself, but also as a therapist.  I have been an LCSW-C (licensed Social Worker- Clinical) in Maryland for the past 12 years.  And have worked as a child and adult therapist with a specialization in attachment and trauma.  I am currently in private practice.  Some of the things I plan to write about are: feeling “good enough” as a parent, figuring out how to find a system of parenting that works for you, helping your children with every day issues, helping your traumatized child, caring for your attachment disordered child, parental self care, and teaching your child to love him or herself. I welcome topics people want to hear about.  I also plan on sharing good books and letting you know helpful books I like and the population I think those books would be helpful to.

I find that parents in my practice tend to come to me with similar issues all in a cluster.  For example, in one week, I had several parents find out that their children were using technology in a sneaky way.  I can only imagine that this is an issue for many parents out there.  After all, we are all connected so if your little Suzie is using her alarm to wake her up so she can talk to her boyfriend you didn’t know she had at 3am, somewhere, Bobby’s parents are finding out he was talking to Suzie and he figured out how to do that from Johnny because he was doing it with his boyfriend and so on and so on. When that happens, I will be writing to let you know about the trend and how to handle it.  I will not be writing any information about my clients that would identify them to you only about issues I see in my office, nor will I be able to diagnose or treat anyone online.  This blog is for psycho-educational purposes only. Oh yes, by the way, this blog will be inclusive of all families and all children, if you are trying to make it as a family and help your children to have a happy life, and you would like to be happier along the way as well, please stay tuned!

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Parenting | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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