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Parenting Page: Allowing A Child To Make Tough Decisions

This is a parenting page, about parenting Page. I am a child psychologist and a mother. So I specialize in children, yet I am human, thus I am full of knowledge and yet as full of emotions as any other parent. So I decided to write this Parenting Page since it might be informative and funny for others to take an insider look at a child specialist raising her child. I also wanted to create a way to show Page when she grows up, if she chooses to have children, a real-life view of the experience. I hope you enjoy these stories and musings. 

At what age do you let a child make an important decision on their own? This is inevitably a rhetorical question since kids differ developmentally in line with their age, and one’s perspective on ‘important’ differs. But I’ll share one scenario my husband and I have faced.

When Page was seven-years-old we went to Greece in the summer to visit my husband’s family. For a week we went to an island: myself, my husband Peter, Page, Peter’s mom, and Page’s cousin Will, age six.  Peter and I stayed in one room and grandma and the two kids stayed in another room, so we saw the kids a lot but not all the time. As the week unfolded it became clear Will would have unprovoked moments of acting out against Page, such as giving her a quick pinch when he didn’t think anyone was looking.

The plan for the second half of the trip was for Peter and I to spend a week alone on the island and the two kids to fly back to Athens with their grandmother. On the morning they were leaving, Peter and I were walking down the hall behind Page and Will, and Will pinched Page, ran ahead a couple of steps into the room and closed the door in her face. Peter saw this and lost it. He started yelling at Will, and also declaring that was it, Page was not going back to Athens to her grandparents’ house where Will would be; she was staying on the island with us. Peter’s mom was protesting and the scene was loud and chaotic as we walked to the taxi. Page pulled on my sleeve and said, “Mom, I’m not sure if I want to stay here.” So I took Page aside and we sat down and talked. Peter wasn’t certain if we should let Page make the decision; I wasn’t certain either. Not all parenting moments are full of certainty, unfortunately. But I did think this was after all her vacation too, and she should be heard at least, and at most maybe even make the decision of how she spent her week. The conversation went something like this:

Page: If I stay here I won’t get to see Papou (grandpa) much this vacation because he hasn’t been here on the island this week. I really want to spend time with Papou.

Tina: OK sweetie, I understand that. Your Papou loves seeing you too.

Page: But I don’t want Will to pinch me or push me or anything. I really like playing with Will a lot when he doesn’t do that. So I want to play with Will at Yaya and Papou’s, and spend the week with Papou without Will pinching me.

Tina: Well, since he’s been doing that for a week even though he gets in trouble when he does it, you have to realize it’s most likely he’s going to keep doing it. You have to have a realistic view of your two choices.

Page: So I can stay on the island with you and Daddy, which is fun and Will isn’t here to bug me, but then I’ll really miss Papou a lot. Or I can go to Athens and spend the week with Papou and everyone and play with Will, but probably sometimes Will is going to bug me.

Tina: That’s right. I wish I could promise you Will would stop; I wish I could do something to make him stop. But so far nothing has worked.

Page lamented over this decision for a few minutes. It was the first time she had ever had to make a decision that was big plus not an easy decision, i.e., each choice had pros and cons. I assured her either decision was OK, and there was no right or wrong choice. In the end she decided to go to Athens so she could spend the week with Papou.

Will acted out some that week, but his mom also decided to go away for a few days with him and let Page have a break and some alone time with her grandparents. As fate would have it, though her Papou was very healthy then and we all imagined he would live decades thereafter, he got cancer about a year and a half later and died before Page ever saw him again. So luckily Page had chosen to tolerate Will and keep her special time with her grandfather.

And Will, let’s not demonize him in this story by the way! He was just a six-year-old kid in a phase that he grew out of over the next year. When the cousins saw each other a year later there were no such incidents. Page loves spending time with Will.

Like Page’s decision, deciding at what age to let your child make an important decision can be a hard choice, with pros and cons, and you’re never quite sure if you’re doing the right thing by letting them decide. But at some point they need to develop these critical thinking skills of weighing complex options and making tough decisions.

Dr. Tina Lepage is the owner of Lepage Associates Solution-Based Psychological & Psychiatric Services, a group practice in S. Durham/RTP. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. www.lepageassociates.com. You can find her on Twitter at @LepageAssoc or at Facebook.com/LepageAssociates.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/dr-tina-lepage/allowing-a-child-to-make-tough-decisions/

Parenting Page: Bad Daddy!

Sometimes children induce a level of stress that results in temporary insanity. It’s inevitable, these moments. The up side is sometimes they’re hilarious. Or at least they are hilarious to those who witness them and aren’t living them.

When Page was five-years-old, we went to Moscow for a few days. She was in a phase, and her ‘attitude’ (i.e. talking back, being sarcastic, not doing what asked, etc.), had been pushing her father’s buttons for several months, and a few days in the close quarters of a hotel induced insanity.

One evening I went to the Bolshoi Theatre alone because I didn’t think Page could sit through the ballet at her age, and I didn’t want to be in Moscow for what was probably a once in a lifetime visit to the city and not see such a famous ballet company. So off I went on my own, only to return to…

Page is asleep. Peter is irate. Seething. He looks like a volcano that might erupt any moment. (This is a look all parents know at some point.) He goes off into his angry soliloquy, with components something like:

“I’ve had it with her! I have h-a-d it UP TO HERE with that child! What’s wrong with her?! She is so disrespectful! She looked at me and said ‘no’ with total attitude! Total attitude! She looked right at me, as if that’s how you talk to a parent! As if I should cow tow to her! I never talked to my parents that way! Do you know what kind of trouble I would have been in if I had talked to my father that way?!!” … and on and on it went … but then, the good part, the hilarious insanity set in…

“I told her, I laid it down, I said Page that’s it, that is IT, no more Mr. Nice Guy. You want to be bad Page, well that’s fine, you’re about to meet Bad Daddy!”

I cannot tell you how much internal energy and poise it took not to burst out laughing. Because he was very serious. And laughing when someone is really angry just isn’t the best timing. I could feel his frustration; it was palatable. And yet… meet Bad Daddy? … That’s just deeply funny. I turned away and walked into the bathroom, trying in the small space of a hotel room to stay turned away from him so he wouldn’t see me stifling my grin and laughter. I knew I had to control it. Had I even allowed myself a smile it was bound to evolve into an all-out giggle fit, so funny was the ‘Meet Bad Daddy’ declaration.

I listened and empathized and calmed him down. We discussed a plan for encouragement of positive behavior and consequences for poor behavior to nudge Page out of her disrespectful phase. And I let the Bad Daddy comment lie, well, for a while…

Several months later when we were getting ready for bed I started doing several small things to purposefully annoy him. After 4 or 5 of these he said, “What are you doing?!” To which I playfully replied, “Trying to meet Bad Daddy.” He immediately knew what I was talking about and said, “That’s not funny!” Though we went on to laugh about just how hilarious it actually was. I mean, what could be funnier?!

This incident is a wonderful example of how some of what seem like the most frustrating or anger-inducing moments of parenting can evolve into the best memories, because those moments are also full of love and caring and at times immutable humor.

Dr. Tina Lepage is the owner of Lepage Associates Solution-Based Psychological & Psychiatric Services, a group practice in S. Durham/RTP. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. www.lepageassociates.com. You can find her on Twitter at @LepageAssoc or at Facebook.com/LepageAssociates

http://chapelboro.com/columns/dr-tina-lepage/parenting-page-bad-daddy/

Parenting Page: Childcare Desperation

This is a parenting page, about parenting Page. I am a child psychologist and a mother. So I specialize in children, yet I am human, thus I am full of knowledge and yet as full of emotions as any other parent. So I decided to write this Parenting Page since it might be informative and funny for others to take an insider look at a child specialist raising her child. I also wanted to create a way to show Page when she grows up, if she chooses to have children, a real-life view of the experience.

How many babysitters does one need to have on their list in order to be certain one will always be available when you need one? A gazillion. This is what new parents learn, and it is shocking news.

Prior to becoming parents, we thought we’d still have a social life because we’d have relatives, friends, and paid sitters watching our kids while we went out. Parents start out having 2-3 people on their list of people to call to sit, and realize quickly how woefully inadequate this number is. Apparently it is statistically quite easy for 2-3 people to have their own social plans or other sitting gigs on a Saturday night. We quickly learned we needed at least five potential sitters on our list to have a snowballs chance in hell of getting childcare when we need it. Notice that five potential sitters does not guarantee you childcare, it just gives you fairly good odds. You will still have times when you scramble.

For a while, to preserve a date night, from when Page was about one to two years old, we hired a regular Saturday night sitter. Friends had suggested this to us as the only way to guarantee a sitter. It’s a good deal for the sitter because it sets up a regular gig for them so it is consistent financially. The down side for us was also that it was consistent financially. J It was expensive and we still had to find sitters any time we wanted to do something that didn’t fall on a Saturday night. But it did have the pro of building in a regular date night to help us stay connected as a couple, another whole separate parenting issue of its own…

The scramble for childcare is an ongoing part of parenting until the child can be left home alone. The dire times are the down-to-the-wire scramble. One time when Page was seven and we had a Saturday night dinner party to attend, I was still scrambling for childcare as of Saturday morning. I was desperately trying to pawn my child off on another family (several families… any family…) at that point because I had exhausted all relatives and sitter possibilities, and had moved on to other families who we could barter a swap with, i.e., take Page Saturday and I’ll take your child another time. It’s a Desperation Dance people with children are very familiar with. Thankfully a neighbor was happy to do it (as was I happy to reciprocate and take her daughter the following week while they went to see a concert). Usually it all works out, though when you end up having to scramble and do the childcare Desperation Dance it is, truth be told, quite stressful.

When all else fails I suggest you take your children with you to the dinner party, have one spouse create a diversion when you arrive, and have the other spouse stash the kids in the basement with snacks, iPads, and promises of grand rewards if they make it through the evening undetected.

Dr. Tina Lepage is the owner of Lepage Associates Solution-Based Psychological & Psychiatric Services, a group practice in S. Durham/RTP. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. www.lepageassociates.com. You can find her on Twitter at @LepageAssoc or at Facebook.com/LepageAssociates.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/dr-tina-lepage/parenting-page-childcare-desperation/

Parenting Page: Where Do Babies Come From?

This is a parenting page, about parenting Page. I am a child psychologist and a mother. So I specialize in children, yet I am human, thus I am full of knowledge and yet as full of emotions as any other parent. So I decided to write this Parenting Page since it might be informative and funny for others to take an insider look at a child specialist raising her child. I also wanted to create a way to show Page when she grows up, if she chooses to have children, a real-life view of the experience. I hope you enjoy these stories and musings. (They will not be in any chronological order.)

Where Do Babies Come From

I’ve never been worried about when Page asks about ‘the birds and the bees.’ Seems to me people get entirely too perplexed about how to handle this. In part because they instantly think they have to give too much information, reading these questions as sexual way before they are. For example, my preschool niece asked me many years ago upon meeting my now-husband, “Do you sleep with him?” I asked her why she asked, and she explained she wanted to know if he was my ‘person’ like mom had dad and grandma had grandpa and aunt so-and-so had uncle… These people went to sleep together and woke up together, so that gave their relationship a certain meaning. But she was not asking me about sex when she asked me if we slept together.

Fast forward many years later and I have my own child asking the inevitable questions about where babies come from. I know just to answer the question with a little info at a time because often that is all the child is seeking. But I am also not uncomfortable with the topic of sex, and I have my ‘Where Did I Come From’ type book tucked away with its simple explanation and cartoons of bodies, so I am prepared for when Page gets to the point of wanting the full story. I have advised parents over the years how to tell children of all ages where babies come from, and being prepared with developmentally appropriate material helps soothe nerves for parents who are anxious about the topic. Though some parents, like the kind of parent I would be, are not uncomfortable talking about sex. (That last sentence is how I described myself before, well…)

The early progression of questions was simple.

“Where do babies come from?”

“They grow in a woman’s uterus.”

That held us over for quite a while.

“How do babies get into a woman’s uterus?”

“A man and a woman do a special love-hug that grown-ups can do that makes babies.”

That answer lasted a long time (years) and was repeated at several questionings.

“How does the special love-hug create a baby?”

“You know how when you grow something you need a seed and then food/fertilizer? Well, the woman has the seed, you know we’ve talked about that before, the egg, and the man has the fertilizer, and they mix together and make a baby.”

This explanation lasted a while but she was starting to get more curious.

Then she started engaging in some scientific thought about this, and one day while my sister was there Page asked, “Mom, how do babies get into a woman’s uterus?’

“A man and a woman do a special love-hug that makes babies.”

“Yea, but HOW does that make a baby?”

“You know, the egg and the fertilizer mix together and make the baby.”

“Yea, but HOW do they mix together? I don’t get it. Tummies are hard.” She touches my stomach and hers to show that even engaged in a hug there does not appear to be an opening for fertilizer to get to the egg.

Oh. Hmmm…

Self-talk: OK, I’m perfectly ready for this. I’m comfortable taking about sex. Well, no, apparently not with my own child; I’m feeling quite flustered. No worries, calm down, it’s a simple explanation, I have the developmentally appropriate book with the age-appropriate cartoons to help… I hate the book. I don’t want to use the book. I don’t want to explain to her where babies come from for real. I’m not ready.

(Like many things in child development, the child is ready, it’s the parent who is not.)

Page is staring at me. My sister is staring at me. “It’s magic!” I blurt out. “Magic?” Page asks. This answer catches her off guard because we tend to use scientific descriptions of things in our house for the most part, so nothing is just ‘magic.’ She looks a little confused. But alas she is still young enough to be excited by the concept of things being magical if I stick with it. So I go on in a very happy, excited voice, “Yes! Isn’t that amazing?! Magic helps make babies! Isn’t that cool?!” Page agrees that is just wonderful and goes off to play.

I am left with my sister, eyebrow raised and smirking. “Magic, Tina?” I tell her not to pick on me. She continues taunting, “Well, you know, when it’s happening it can feel kind of magical…”

Dr. Tina Lepage is the owner of Lepage Associates Solution-Based Psychological & Psychiatric Services, a group practice in S. Durham/RTP. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. You can find her on twitter at @LepageAssoc or at Facebook.com/LepageAssociates.

image by blush printables via flickr

http://chapelboro.com/columns/dr-tina-lepage/parenting-page-where-do-babies-come-from/