What Does It Really Take To Be The Parent You Want to Be?

By Barbara Desmarais

I began working with parents in 1988.  I started out  facilitating the course “How to Talk SoKids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  I led the course for several years and then went on to lead S.T.E.P. (Systematic Training For Effective Parenting) by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay.  I learned a lot through both programs and was introduced to the whole concept of “democratic parenting” which I was able to apply while raising my own children.  I was also hugely influenced by Barbara Coloroso.  I learned effective ways to discipline that honored both the child and the parent.

After leading both programs for several years,  I went on to create my own parenting workshops that I’ve been delivering to groups of parents for over 20 years now.  In 2002 I began coaching parents and working with them privately.  It was then I learned not only the issues they were having with their kids, but other things that were going on in their lives.  I started learning about marriages that were not working, mothers who were completely unfulfilled, relationships with in-laws that were unhealthy, and much more.

It occurred to me a few years into my coaching, that I could arm my clients with all the best discipline tools but if their marriage was on the rocks, it was very difficult to apply what they were learning.  I learned that parents who were yelling at their kids all the time were really struggling with personal things and the problems had little to do with their kids. I learned that mothers who had never learned how to establish good boundaries in their personal relationships, had a very difficult time establish boundaries with their kids.

I remember many years ago coaching a mom who had an ongoing, problematic relationship with one of her daughters.  I gave her some different communication strategies but my intuition led me to ask her what she did for herself.  I wanted to know what she did for fun and were there things in life she wanted to do but had never taken the time to do.  She came up with a long list of things.  She had devoted her entire life to her husband and children and that’s the ways it always was.  She told me that one thing she’d always wanted to do was learn to belly dance. She was tentative when she told me, as though there was something wrong with wanting to belly dance.  I told her I thought that was great and  her assignment for the next week was to find a belly dancing class and sign up.  A few weeks later she reported that she’d found a class and was loving it.  I knew doing something for herself that she loved, would have a direct impact on her relationship with her daughter and she was setting an example to both her daughters that doing what brings us joy is an important part of living well.  I knew her girls would be proud of their mom and her joy would rub off on them.  I knew many of the things that were coming between her and her daughter would melt away.  It was not hard to convince her that for her, learning to belly dance, was in fact part of being a great parent!

Our kids learn mostly by watching.  We can teach through our words but it’s through our actions that we really teach.  We can’t teach them how to effectively handle their emotions if they experience us yelling all the time.  We can’t teach them to be patient if they see us always being impatient.  We can’t teach to respect others if they don’t experience us showing respect.  We can’t expect them to go out and live a happy and fulfilled life if we haven’t shown them what that looks like.



Expressing Love To The Most Important Person In Your Life

This is an article I wrote a few years ago, but I would like to re-post  it, tomorrow being Valentine’s Day.

By:  Barbara Desmarais

Valentine’s Day is one day out of the year when we make a point of acknowledging those people we love. There are many different ways of expressing love. Using the words “I love you” is one way but the words often have little meaning if our actions are not aligned with our words. You may have heard the words yourself but the person saying them doesn’t display love in their actions. There are others who have neither heard the words “I love you” nor had people in their lives express genuine love towards them. They have never truly felt loved by anyone.

What does it mean to truly love someone? It means accepting them for who they are, supporting their interests, forgiving them for their wrongs, acknowledging their accomplishments, being there for them in good times and bad, accepting their faults and appreciating their strengths. It also means loving them when they may not be loveable.

When it comes to love, the most important person to love is yourself. If you can’t love yourself, it’s very hard to show love towards others. Loving yourself is defined in much the same way as loving someone else. That is accepting yourself for who you are, acknowledging your strengths, forgiving yourself for your mistakes, doing things that nurture your soul and celebrating your successes.

When it comes to loving yourself, how are you doing? Are you consistently putting the needs of others ahead of your own? Do you feel guilty for taking time out with friends or doing something just for the fun of it? Do you acknowledge the eventual result of putting yourself last? When it comes to self-love, what do you want to role model to your children? We know that children learn what they live. They can’t learn to love themselves if it hasn’t been role modeled.

Those of us who are parents were likely raised to believe that once we have children, they come first. Yes, children need to know they’re a priority in our lives. A child who is completely dependent on us, has to come first. But what happens if we always put our children’s needs ahead of our own? They often get a watered down version of who we really are.

Part of loving our children or loving anyone, is giving them our best. They deserve to have a parent or a partner who is happy, patient, tolerant, fun-loving, resourceful and emotionally and physically healthy. We can only become the best of who we are if we show love and respect towards ourselves. I’ve had so many parents (mostly mothers) tell me when they take a day for themselves to be with friends or do something they love they reunite with their family feeling renewed and refreshed. Things that may have irritated them the day before became insignificant. Parents who don’t carry around resentment, are usually more fun to be around. They’re better able to appreciate their children’s strengths as well as their partners’.

This Valentine’s Day express love to your children’s mother or to your partner’s partner. Give her something she loves or write a poem to her. Write a loving affirmation for all the wonderful things she’s done this year for other people. Buy her a bouquet of her favorite flowers or a bottle of her favorite wine. Go to a bakery and pick out her favorite chocolate desert. She deserves it! I’m talking about YOU.

Parenting and Anger

By:  Barbara Desmarais

It seems that anger is a common theme while raising a family.  In my last newsletter, I wrote a short article on anger and had several people tell me it touched a chord with them.  They admitted their anger was out of control and they knew it was adversely affecting the relationship they had with their partner and their children.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on anger by any means, through my own research and my work, I’ve learned that anger is a secondary emotion stemming from pain, fear or frustration.  The anger we express to people we love, we know is disproportionate to the issue we claim to be angry about.  We might yell at a child for taking so long to brush his/her teeth, or leaving toys on the floor or jumping on the furniture.  We might lash out at our teenager for not calling.  We might vehemently argue with a spouse for not helping around the house more.

Every one of us has triggers that mostly stem from our childhood. It might also be an unpleasant experience we had in our early adult years.  Someone might say something that triggers a memory that made us feel unworthy or afraid.  Often times we yell out of pure frustration because we feel we’re not being heard or taken seriously.

I often say that those of us who are parents are given the best opportunity to grow and learn about ourselves.  All our triggers are opportunities to dig deeper – to explore them and learn to take on a new perspective.  Sometimes it means forgiving someone or better still, forgiving yourself.  Sometimes it means we’re not communicating our needs clearly enough.

When we’re angry, the tendency is to blame someone else.  If only she/he would do things differently, everything would be fine.  Blaming others never moves us in a positive direction.  It only makes the other person defensive and then the dance continues.  Whenever we take ownership of our own part in a relationship that isn’t working, whether it be our kids or our partner, great things start to happen.



Parenting and Marriage

After coaching parents for ten years and working in the field of parenting for close to twenty-five years, I’ve decided to move my focus from parenting to relationships.  I’m particularly interested in married people (or people living common-law) who have children.  More and more I’ve come to realize that parenting is far more than just knowing how to discipline.  Of course that’s part of it but it’s not everything.  Parenting is also what’s going on in our lives because the way we live our lives, is what we teach our kids.  When they grow up they will copy what they lived.  It’s not the things we told them that will have the biggest impact, it’s what they witnessed. We are their role models for everything.

I’ve worked with several parents privately who initially came to me with parenting challenge but in the end. more than half of our time together was spent addressing what was going on in their personal life.  Often it was their marriage that was in trouble.  If things are not going well between the parents, the whole family feels it.  Often anger and frustration is taken out on the kids or parents are fighting a lot in front of them.  No one intends to fight in front of the kids, it just happens and often things escalate.

Our kids want and deserve to live in a home that feels safe, comfortable, loving and secure.  When parents are fighting all the time it feels far from safe and loving.  It makes kids feel insecure and it threatens their foundation.  It can be very frightening and confusing.  Why is everyone so angry?  They don’t understand but what they do know is that it doesn’t feel very good.

Parenting starts with us.  We can read all the books and have all the latest gadgets that promise to make our lives easier but if our most important relationships are in trouble, none of that matters.  The relationship parents have with each other is a huge contributing factor to the climate of the household.  How we relate to each other is what we teach our kids.  How we resolve our differences is what we teach our kids.  How loving and respectful we are to each other is what we teach our kids.

I  have been married for nearly twenty-eight years which feels like a big accomplishment in a society where there is a fifty percent divorce rate.  We don’t have a perfect marriage and it hasn’t always been easy.  We’ve  had our share of challenges but we’ve weathered them.  Through some outside help and a lot of reflection, dialogue, reading, self-evaluation and trying new ways of doing things, we got through the worst of it.  We both had to make some big changes. I will say with certainty, that it’s all been worth it.

I’m looking forward to working with parents who are experiencing some challenges in their marriage or relationship and want to consider coaching rather than therapy to help them work through some of their issues.  Parenting starts with us. It’s our responsibility to create the home environment our kids deserve.

How Can I Have A Life And Still Be A Great Parent?

When you have children they should always come first.  Is that what you were taught?  Is that what you believe?  What happens when the kids always come first and you come last? Do your kids get to see the best of you?

I’ve worked with many, many parents (mostly mothers) who tell me when they take time out for themselves they feel guilty.  They feel guilty even when they’ve left their kids in the care of someone they know and trust; often the other parent.  They admit though that a night out with girlfriends, or taking a class, or participating in a sport makes them feel refreshed and renewed.  They have a better perspective on life and more patience.

When we put everyone’s needs ahead of our own, we start to feel something is missing in our lives and resentment takes over.  A lot of moms tell me they’ve lost their sense of humor, they don’t have the patience they thought they would have and they’re yelling a lot.  I’ve heard:  ” I never thought I’d be this way.”  When I hear that I know right away, they’ve completely bought into the notion that kids have to always come first.  The truth is, in order to be the parent we want to be, and present the best of ourselves to the people we love the most, we have to put ourselves first.  This does not mean at the expense of our kids, it means FOR our kids.

Am I telling you to neglect your kids so you can go out and have fun?  Of course not.  Taking time out for you, now requires planning.  You can no longer be spontaneous in the way you could be, before.  It requires prioritizing.  It means giving up some things in favor of nurturing your mind, body and spirit.

I’ve given many, many workshops on this very topic and when I ask my audience how many people feel they have no life, about ninety percent raise their hand.  My next question is “How does it feel to have no life?”  The answers I get are:  resentful, jealous of those who have a life, angry, frustrated….”  I tell my audience that when you walk around with those feelings, that’s what you project on to your children.  My next question is always: “What would it feel like if you had a life?” The answers I get are:  I’d be more fun, more loving, more patient, less irritable….”.  Don’t your kids deserve to experience you that way?  How do you want them to remember you as a parent?



The Importance of Healthy Snacks For Children

Guest Post by Brianna Kelly

Proper nutrition is important as kids grow, and snack time should be just as healthy and delicious as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Instead of reaching for something packaged and processed, parents can make the best of this opportunity by creating healthy and delicious snacks that will keep kids (and their bellies) happy and full until dinner.

Snack time accounts for about 10-15% of kids’ daily calories, so why not take the opportunity to include fruits and veggies? Adding a (healthy!) dip is a great way to get kids more excited about eating fruits and vegetables. Hummus is delicious for dipping vegetables like carrots, celery and peppers. Made from chickpeas, hummus is high in fiber and protein. When kids are craving something sweet, use yogurt for dipping grapes, apple slices and strawberries. Make sure the yogurt contains live active cultures, and try to avoid anything with too much added sugar. Greek yogurt is best for a protein-packed snack, but the tangy flavor may deter kids from eating it. Add a little honey for added sweetness without adding sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Healthy snacks are an important part of helping children develop healthy eating habits and a regular eating schedule. Many nutritionists recommend eating five small meals a day rather than three large ones. Well-portioned snacks between meals can help children make a habit of grazing throughout the day, and encouraging nutritious snacks will allow them to develop a healthy relationship with food. They will also learn that healthy food can be tasty food at an early age, building a foundation for healthy eating habits as adults.

Healthy snacking also provides a great opportunity for kids and parents to spend time together. Allowing kids to help choose and make their own food is a great learning experience, and parents can make it a lot of fun! Funky utensils (like colorful plates and crazy straws) are a great place to start, but there are lots of options for parents to get kids involved in making fun and delicious snacks. Baking is a fun activity for parents to share with kids, and it’s easy to make healthy varieties of classics. Zucchini bread and sweet potato muffins make a sweet treat filled with vegetable nutrition and plenty of fiber. Kids will love the taste – and helping out in the kitchen. Sweet potatoes can also be sliced up and baked in the oven for a healthy alternative to potato chips that your kids will be proud of making. Investing in a few cookie cutters can also make snack time fun as parents and children cut out playful shapes for healthy snacks.

Portion control is also a vital component of healthy snacking. Younger children require less calories, with toddlers only needing about 1,200 calories per day. Once children reach the double digits, gender plays a role in calorie requirements, and girls require less calories than boys. A child’s activity level also greatly affects how many calories he or she needs. Although it can be fun to make snacks together, having pre-portioned snacks on hand can be perfect for times when parents and children are on the go.

Remember that while healthy snacking is great, everyone needs an indulgence – especially kids. Don’t make treats entirely off limits – it will only make children crave them more. It’s OK to go out for ice cream or have a cookie after dinner, and by making these foods accessible (in limited quantities,) children will be more willing to eat healthy snacks. With a little creativity, healthy snacks can become a main ingredient in every child’s daily meal plan.

About the Author: Brianna Kelly has over 5 years experience publishing articles on childcare education and parenting. She writes on a regular basis for Giraffe Childcare, who has 18 locations based in Dublin, Ireland.

Letting Your Kids Fail Is A Good Thing

I was leading a workshop the other day and we got into a discussion about the importance of letting our kids fail.  You might be saying to yourself:  “What?!!  Aren’t we supposed to be guiding them towards success?”.  Yes, a big part of our job is to guide them towards success but all successful people have experienced failure; some much more than others.  What made them successful is that they weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they just learned from their mistakes and moved on.  They didn’t allow themselves to be defeated by rejection, hurt or disappointment.

I often tell groups the story of my daughter’s Grade 8 year in High School when she refused to apply herself in Math.  Her marks were poor and she didn’t seem to care.  We offered to hire a tutor for her but she would have no part of it and my husband who is excellent in Math, promised to sit with her and help with all her homework assignments.  She would have no part of that either.  We had done our part in offering help so the rest was up to her.  We decided that we were just going to have to let her fail.  When looking at the big picture, I knew it would not have a big impact on her ability to meet all her requirements for graduation and at this stage she could easily catch up.  When her marks came at the end of the school year, she did indeed fail Math and had to go to summer school in order to take  Math 9 in the fall.  Getting yourself to school for 9am every morning for a month during the summer when all your friends are still in bed is not fun.  My daughter was determined to pass this time and decided to apply herself so she could be with her friends for Math 9 in the fall.   We allowed her to experience the consequence of not trying and refusing help which turned out to be the best thing.  Her marks from then on stayed well above average.

I asked my group:  “How many of you have never been rejected or disappointed? ”  Of course no one raised their hand.  We’ve all experienced rejection, heart ache, disappointment and failure.  It’s part of living.  What’s important is that we know how to effectively handle the disappointments and rejections and not feel completely defeated by them.  We can’t see ourselves as failures and then lose the motivation to keep going.  If we don’t let our kids experience failure or disappointment, they don’t learn how to handle it when it eventually comes their way.    Our kids need to hear things like:  “I know it was tough, but you got through it” or “Kids can be mean sometimes but you really handled that well” or “Think of what you learned from making that mistake” or “I know you’ll get through this.”

We do our kids no justice by protecting them from hurt and disappointment.  It’s hard to see them upset.  No one likes it and it hurts us.  We must though give them the tools to rise above their failures.  It’s through adversity that we grow the most.  There is no highly successful person on the planet who didn’t experience a lot of hurt and rejection before they got to where they are now.  Avoiding any kind of pain and always playing it safe, prevents us from becoming the person we’re meant to be.

Parenting: How Do I Know What Is Best?

More than ever, if you’re a parent you have information coming at you from all directions on how best to raise your children. Very often, rather than being helpful, it can make things more confusing because so much of the information is conflicting. How do you know what’s “right”?

What I’ve come to believe throughout my nearly 25 years of working with parents is what is “right” is what’s right for you. There simply isn’t a formula that works for everyone. We’re all different. If we look at two families and family “A” is living peacefully, everyone is for the most part, happy, there are no secrets and generally everyone is functioning well, whatever that family is doing with respect to parenting is ‘right”. If, on the other hand, family “B” is living in chaos, hostility reigns, and the energy of the home is tense and negative, something has to change. Something isn’t working. It could be any number of things. It usually takes an objective, outside person to help determine what that might be. Most of us can’t see our own situations as objectively as an outsider.

I know many parents feel judged because their kids are only enrolled in one activity instead of five, or their approach to discipline goes against the latest trend or they’re doing too much of this and not enough of that. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and not one of is a perfect parent. I’m not even sure what that looks like anyway.

One theme I like to work on with my clients is helping them to believe in themselves. When we constantly doubt our decisions and approach to challenges, our kids will doubt us too. They prefer us to be strong and decisive. We all feel more comfortable around leaders who are sure of themselves. Trust your instincts. If someone is suggesting you approach things a different way and it feels wrong to you, don’t do it. If it make sense and feels right, try it.

Remember what is “right” is what’s right for you. If everyone in the family is doing well and you’re comfortable with the ways things are, chances are, whatever you’re doing is “right”.

Life Lessons From Mom

This past weekend my sisters and I hosted a Celebration of Life for our mom who died on March 27th. In the tribute I made to her, I spoke of what she taught me. This is the transcript of my little talk:

Mom, I’m going to miss you a lot. We were buddies. You were always there for me – for all the ups and downs and twists and turns of my life. You listened and you listened attentively. I could also share crazy, trivial things with you – you know the ones. You loved my kids and always wanted to know what was going on with all of them. You were their cheerleader too. Even though it meant leaving Dad at home to figure out the microwave so he could heat up all the meals you made for him, you made the effort to fly down here regularly to be with all of us and be part of our lives.
I know the last six months have been trying for you and I heard you when you said you wanted to go. It was your time and you made your exit very peacefully. We’ll be fine. You lived a long life and for that I will be forever grateful. How lucky we were that we got to see so much of you the last two and half years.

The life lessons we teach our kids are taught by how we live our own lives. These are some of the things I learned from you that I cherish:

• Having a cup of tea every afternoon at 3:30 is a lovely ritual that breaks up the day
• It’s always better to be yourself than try and to be someone you’re not
• Friends nourish the soul
• Dogs will always be there for you, no matter what and they love you unconditionally
• When you’re married to a busy professional, create a life of your own. It will save your soul and your marriage.
• If you don’t have anywhere to go in the morning, stay in your pajamas. Why not be comfortable.
• Having a garden is very satisfying and nurtures the mind, body and spirit
• Homemade food is always the best
• Family meals are essential
• Singing the old songs is always a fun to do
• Always bring hard boiled eggs on a picnic
• Everyone has a story if you take the time to listen
• Always say thank-you
• Listen to the CBC
• Always make sure you moisturize
• Be a good neighbor
• Be there for your friends when they need you
• Have a rest every day
• Homemade jam is always better than store bought

Mom, I know there is more and those things will come to me as I continue to live my life.
Thank you.

Not Enough Attention or Too Much Attention?

I’ve been working with a couple of the past few weeks to try and determine the source of their three year old’s temper tantrums. In order to effectively eliminate  the tantrums or decrease the frequency, we have to first of all discover the source.

We know one of the most common reasons children act out is to get attention. That’s always the first thing we look at. Are we physically there but not emotionally? Are we paying too much attention to an infant sibling and forgetting to acknowledge the first born? Are we spending too much time in front of a screen and spending very little time fully engaging with our child?

Another thing I always like to look at is the child’s routine. Especially with very young children, are they being fed small amounts of food, frequently? Are they getting enough sleep and down time? Are too many activities being crammed into the day and at the end of the day you’re dealing with a child who is over-stimulated?

Another very common reason for a tantrum is when a child kicks and screams to get what she/he wants and out of pure exhaustion, we give in. In that case we’re likely to get more because they’ve learned this is a way to get what they want.

We have a very different approach to parenting than a generation ago when parents were much less involved and things were very black and white. Also, we didn’t have a situation where in most households both parents worked outside the home. Today, we’re much more involved and many parents who are away from their children for long periods try and make up for their absence by being fully present every minute they’re with them. This can create a “As long as I’m with Mom and Dad I can get what I want, when I want and I’m in charge”. Exhausted parents can easily give in to demands because it’s easier. By doing so, in the long run, we send a message of entitlement. Children learn they have a right to demand anything they want. Of course that isn’t our intention when we allow ourselves to respond to every beck and call. However, when we choose to respond a certain way to our children, we always want to ask ourselves “What am I teaching? What message am I sending?” Make sure the message you’re sending is going to serve them in the long run. It is not in a child’s best interest when they’re in charge, and not the parents.