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.

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.

What are your goals for 2007?

Tonight is the night we bring in the New Year. What are your plans? Are the kids going to stay up? My husband and I are having a few close friends over for a late dinner and to spend the evening. I’m cooking salmon fillets with a dill sauce.

What are your goals for 2007? I just had a long chat with my friend and buddy coach and we shared our goals for the coming year. We didn’t talk about resolutions. I’m going to be writing them down and saying them out loud. I know for certain when I focus on what I want rather than what I don’t want, I’m more likely to see positive results. So, what are YOUR goals for the coming year?

Happy Holidays to All

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I would like to offer you my very best wishes.

To all of you who read my blog, visit my website, attend my workshops, choose me to coach you, attend my ASL for Babies classes, read my articles, or visit the parenting network I co-moderate with GG Gaggaro, you have helped to make 2006 a wonderful year for me. So many of you have touched my life in very special ways. Thank you.

I wish all of you a healthy and prosperous 2007.

When Parents Disagree

In a perfect world parents would always agree on parenting. The reality is we all come from different backgrounds and no two people were raised exactly the same way. We tend to repeat the parenting practices of our parents. If your a mom and your mother yelled a lot, it’s likely you will too. If you’re a dad and your dad was very involved with your upbringing, you will probably be the same. If your parents argued a lot, you will likely argue a lot with your partner or spouse.

Most of us think our way is the right way. Often Mom’s “right” is very different than Dad’s “right” and the result is a lot of tension and bickering between parents. Freqently all that bickering about whose way is right, is done in front of our kids and we’ve created an atmosphere of hostility and tension. One thing that is certain, our kids can’t thrive in the way we’d like them to if the home they’re being raised in is full of anamosity and tension.

I remember when my kids were young, I wanted to limit the junk food they consumed. My husband is less food concious than I am so he often gave them food and beverages I didn’t approve of. I made a decision to let go of my disapproval around some of the treats he gave them. I realized my display of anger towards him was much harder on our kids than the harm of eating a bag of chips once in awhile.

When I’m coaching parents I always ask them to consider the big picture. What kind of memories do you want to create? How do you want to role model healthy relationships? How important is it to you that your children grow up in a loving and peaceful home? The next time you insist your way is the right way, ask yourself if in the long run it will really matter. Will this really matter five or ten years from now? My guess is, probably not. If we’re regularly arguing with each other in front of our kids will that matter in the long run? Yes it will.

Mom needs a break sometimes…

I have a client right now who is a mother to three children under 10 and her husband works out of town during the week. One of her children is particularly challenging which has prompted her to send me emails desperate for some help. We’ve been working together to try and find the source of her child’s problems. In the meantime, she is working a job that requires her full attention 24 hours a day 5 days a week when her husband is away. She has no family living close by. As I’m listening to her and reading her emails, all I can think is “She needs a break.” I asked if there was anyone in the neighborhood she trusted that could watch her kids for a few hours once or twice a week. I’ve shared this with both her and her husband. During our most recent session, she reported to me that she had found someone. It happens to be a mature woman who lives right next door and had actually offered to help before but they had never taken her up on her offer. They’ve set something up to give my client a few hours to herself at least once a week.

This is a perfect example of how the Law of Attraction works. When we put our attention to what we want, instead of what we don’t want, somehow the Universe delivers. The answer to some of her problems was a stone throw away.

The Secret Language of Babies

I just popped into the Oprah site to see the line-up for this week.  Tomorrow’s show is talking about the secret language of babies.  I’m sure it will be fascinating.  Haven’t you always wondered what all those different cries mean?