Why Can’t We Be Friends?

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.


In many parenting books and articles, I’ve come across the statement “you are not your child’s friend.” It always makes me wonder what the author’s definition of “friend” is. Because I do consider—and have considered almost from the moment they were born—my children as my friends. Why? Here is how I define friendship:

A friend is someone who I know and who knows me

A friend is someone I’ve experienced events or activities with

A friend is someone I can have fun with

A friend is someone I have common interests with

A friend is someone who I help and who helps me

A friend is someone I can share joys and sorrows with

A friend is someone I can trust

Here are some of the definitions of “friend” in the dictionary:

  1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
  2. a person who gives assistance; supporter
  3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile:
  4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.

So why would some parenting experts advise against friendship? I assume it is because some friendships are unhealthy; and because friends often play a role (such as a confidant) that would be inappropriate in a parent-child relationship.

Examples of unhealthy “friendships” include:

  • “Friendships” in which the fear of losing affection overrides concern for the safety or well-being of the other person or for yourself.
  • Inappropriately exclusive and/or controlling “friendships.”
  • “Friendships” where the needs of one person dominate, to the detriment of the other person.

These “friendships” are familiar; most of us have been involved in one or more of them, particularly as we were growing up and experimenting with how to be in a relationship with another person. These mistakes helped us learn what not to do as a friend. Sometimes relationships survived these mistakes and became healthy friendships; other times we were able to form healthy friendships with new people.

What helped us to learn what to do as a friend? It’s not enough to learn what not to do. Parents who have healthy friendships with other adults provide a model for their children. I believe that having a healthy friendship with your child also helps him or her to learn about friendship.

So what is a healthy parent-child friendship?

  1. There are appropriate boundaries—the parent is still the parent and provides protection and guidance.
  2. The child is allowed to be a child, not forced into an adult role.
  3. The parent has adult friends and healthy relationships with them.
  4. The parent encourages and facilitates the child’s contact with and friendship with other children (and with other adults when appropriate).

My friendship with my children evolved as they grew into adults. There are still boundaries I’ve set, and additional boundaries they have set. I still have the urge to provide protection and guidance to them– they usually tolerate this, sometimes gently reprimand me about it, and occasionally request it. Our friendship will evolve still further as I age. I have good memories of times of fun and friendship with my own parents before their deaths. I hope one day my children will have similar memories of our friendship.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.


Teaching Kindness

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.


I have always been intrigued by other people’s stories. In the treatment centers I work in, Milestones Women’s Program (for women and children) and YES House (for adolescents), one of the first questions I ask is “what happened to you?” Sometimes the question alone evokes a tearful and very sad response.

I listen to stories of pain and loss and of people just trying to survive in what is often an unkind world.

As a mom I always felt honor-bound to teach my boys kindness for others, no matter their presentation or circumstance. As we were driving we would see people holding signs at freeway entrances or grocery parking lots. Most of these signs said “Homeless…need help” or “I am hungry, please help me.” Because of my life experience I could often identify the Viet Nam veteran, the mother or father simply trying to do the best they could.

I carry dollar bills in my car and I give what can when I encounter people needing help. It’s not much; I don’t have that much extra, but I always can spare a dollar, or two, or five. I have taught my sons to do the same thing. Holding a sign asking for help in the rain or in the hot sun is hard work. I have heard others say “Why don’t they get a job,” as though that could be the answer. These people are faced with barriers that we don’t truly know or may not be able to understand. It is not mine to judge. And, thank God, my children don’t judge either.

One of the proudest days I remember is when my youngest was about twelve years old. He and a friend of mine were in the Albertson’s parking lot in Albany when they encountered a woman in a wheel chair. She was holding a sign that read “Please help”. My son read the sign and after passing her turned around and approached the women. “Here, I want to help,” he said, and handed her a ten-dollar bill. She smiled and thanked him for his generosity. They apparently spoke for about five minutes, and he asked her about her wheelchair.

I didn’t witness this act of kindness: my friend told me about it. I talked to my son later that evening and told him I knew that he had given his money away. I asked why he didn’t tell me. He laughed and then said, “I didn’t think I had to.” We spoke more and he shared that he saw she didn’t have legs and wanted to help in any way he could. He repeated the lesson I had taught him, that “she was working as hard as she could.”

Everybody has a story. We generally land where we do in life because of the help we receive or the help we don’t. There are many ways to give. Teaching children to give, to share, and to serve brings rewards we can’t count.

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

Little House, Big Family


We live in a small house. We’re okay with that, but two adults and four children—who continue, inexplicably, to get older and grow in size—in two bedrooms and a converted garage can be a challenge. We spent the three-day weekend doing what we traditionally do, which is to rearrange the entire house. Thanks to this year’s tax refund, we rented a dumpster and got rid of as much of our dilapidated furniture and any items not fit to donate as we could. One Ikea trip and three full days of work later, this house is a little more habitable.

Our previous house was a bit larger, and the one before that was bigger still. What I found was that the more space we had, the more stuff appeared to fill it up. We didn’t even have to buy it; furniture arrived from friends and family to take up residence there, often for “safekeeping.” Toys seemed to breed overnight. Each successive move lead to more stuff filling less space. Thus the dumpster. I prefer small, thank you.

What makes a small house work for a family? A place for everything, and everything in its place. We make extensive use of baskets (I don’t even know where they come from): baskets for shoes, baskets for wooden blocks, baskets for sweaters and coats. These hanging closet organizers are surprisingly effective. Shelves and bins for the various things girls collect. And because we’re a family of readers, the bookshelves are finally cleared for books! Plus lamps, because of the reading, and tables to hold them. Our kids need floor space to build and play—blocks, Legos, puzzles, board games, sketchpads—so we try to make as much room as possible.

Most of the time, a two-bedroom house is cozy. But things come up. There are already lines for the bathroom, and none of the girls are teenagers yet. The nine-year old must have read somewhere about privacy, and is lobbying to move into the garage. Further rearrangement is in order. And a single couch can lead to territorial disputes if someone (for example, a toddler) is not in the mood to share her personal space. I try to stay on my feet as much as I can, and save my couch time for when they’re sleeping. I’m sitting right now! It’s nice.

I think that mostly a small house works because of the yard. It was sunny and warm today, and lunch was served on blankets on the lawn, surrounded by stuffed animals. While the parents shifted furniture and bagged clothes, the kids ran, played, gardened (planted sticks in the lawn) and found endless uses for sand, stones and mud.

Whatever space you share with your family, I hope that it works for you. Stay cozy.

Good Mornings


If there’s a key to parenting, and I’m not saying that there is, it’s routines. If a child knows what’s going to happen next, and what to do about it, parents have already done most of the work.

I get up early for work, and all four of my daughters get up with me. They know that I’m going to turn the lights on, and they know that I’m going to make coffee. And when I’m reasonably sure that coffee is going to happen, I’m going to make breakfast. That’s it, really. Once breakfast is over they start on chores; the nine year-old puts away the laundry I have done in the night, and the seven year-old puts away the dishes. Everyone makes their bed, with varying degrees of assistance, and gets dressed, ditto.

If that sounds simple, let me tell you that it has taken years of practice. I learned somewhere that it’s healthier and more efficient to get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. Being a parent has made me a morning person. This was not a natural development. And there have been bumps. Hard experience has lead to the phrase, “I don’t discuss breakfast, I make it.” For a number of reasons, not having to negotiate or sell breakfast is the only way it can happen without issues. I am not a fount of calm and reason prior to coffee.

My wife sleeps in until I leave for work. She is in charge of homeschooling, and she will wake up—on a good morning—to children who are fed, dressed, and ready for a school day. I imagine it would be the same if one or both of us were taking them to school. More importantly, my wife wakes up to the makings of a perfect pour-over cup of coffee.

So here are the components of my morning routine:

  • The laundry and dishes have been done in the night.
  • I am up when the kids are awake.
  • I feed them.
  • I am ready to pass them along when I leave for work.

It’s a routine because it works the same way every day. I know what needs to be done—I am very attached to my routines as well—and so do the kids. The start of the day sets the tone for the rest of it. If a child needs an extra hug or a reassuring smile, I provide it. This is not always easy for me first thing, because frankly I would rather sit down with my coffee and read the music reviews on Pitchfork. But that can happen after breakfast is done. If I’m lucky, I get 10-20 minutes before it’s time to get ready for work.

There are a lot of ways to make these things work more efficiently, as detailed in this article from The American Occupational Therapy Association. One thing I found funny was the idea of establishing a wake up time for your kids. The wake up time for my kids is when the sun is first thinking about coming up. I know that I will eventually have to convince my children to get out of bed, but we’re not there yet.

Your routine will work differently than mine. You are probably more ambitious and energetic than I am, so you’re probably out jogging or doing yoga or something. That’s cool. The important thing is that it’s predictable, and that it works.

On Tantrums



Tantrums happen.

There are two things that most parents, myself included, would love know more about when it comes to tantrums. One is how to avoid them. The other is how, when they happen, to deal with them.

Is it possible to keep a child from having a tantrum? Well, there are certainly conditions we can create that make them less likely, or at least less frequent. Children, especially toddlers, need an environment that is predictable and orderly. They want to know what is coming next, and in what order. What it comes down to is that they need to feel safe. When a child loses that sense of orderliness, of predictability, they will feel insecure. Too many choices, unclear expectations, transitions, anything which makes them feel a loss of control can trigger a tantrum.

In that sense, routines are important. Telling our child what is going to happen next, and giving them a sense that one thing will follow another, can certainly help. But as you may have noticed, life tends to upend these things. We might need to go to the store, for example. It might be time to clean up because we are going to have dinner. The castle built from blocks might fall down. The child might feel hot, cold, tired, hungry, frustrated, nervous or confused. Really, anything could happen. And will.

So, tantrums. There hasn’t been a lot of study devoted to how they work and what they’re made of, possibly because scientists might have children too, and a screaming, flopping toddler will beat science every time.

But there have been some recent attempts to focus on the tantrum. A study detailed in this NPR story offers insight into what goes into a tantrum, and some ideas about what to do when they happen. It’s worth listening to the story (audio can be found in the link) and to watch the brief video that accompanies the article. For one thing, it’s fantastic that researchers convinced a bunch of toddlers to wear special onesies wired with microphones to have tantrums in. I love that.

The story explains that, while it was previously held that a child’s outburst may come in waves of anger and sadness, the data collected in this study indicates that they are more often mixed or layered: there is a complicated and often volatile cloud of feelings coming out of a tantrum. It’s no wonder that children will feel overwhelmed and express themselves in ways that can be scary to them and to us.

So what can we do, as parents, when it happens? According to the researchers, the less the better. We want to help the child ride the peaks of anger and transition into a space in which she can accept comfort. Having expended all that energy, she will feel drained and disoriented and will need adult caregivers to help her reorient herself to her surroundings and her emotions.

Simply put, we should avoid adding fuel to the fire. Don’t ask questions. Don’t try to use reason or logic (even if the tantrum arose over something that simply doesn’t make sense; one example discussed in the story is a toddler who did not want her feet to be attached anymore). The more confusion, choices, or even simple information that we throw into the mix, the longer the tantrum will take to resolve itself. Simple instructions—sit here, put down the toy—are all that is needed to keep the child and others safe.

Perhaps most important, and not discussed in the article, is that the child needs to know we are there for them; that we are available when they need us (even when they are screaming at us to “go away”). Tantrums happen, and they pass, and we can imagine how frightening and exhausting they can be for the child. They will need our help when it is over.


Thanks to Rhonda Greene, Family Visitation Coach at Family Tree Relief Nursery, for calling attention to this study.

On Vacation, Going Home


Our family went on vacation recently. It was nothing too fancy: a friend of the family owns a condo on the coast in which we have been staying, occasionally, for the last few years. It is entirely different from taking a trip to, say, Disneyland, or driving to the Grand Canyon. It is familiar. As many times as we have moved since our children were born, this place has been a constant. It is very much a kind of home.

I think that often family vacations can be as stressful, if not more so, than so-called “regular” life. The packing and preparation, the expectation for everyone to have a “good time,” can be more trouble than it is worth. I can understand the temptation for new and unique experiences; after all, as parents we want our children to keep these memories with them and to cherish them as bright spots in their lives. That’s why family trips come with the further expectation of a lot of photos. “See? This really happened. We did this once.”

Our trips to the coast are more like “staycations.” The kids know what is around them, and what there is to do, and we look forward to settling into them again. That view of the Bay bridge, the sight of the clammers wading around in low tide. The lights of the fishing boats; the seals popping up offshore. For me, this extends to the most banal features of our stay: the quirks of the condo’s oven, with its variations in temperature. The water pressure in the shower and the smell of the resident laundry soap. The soft creak of the stairs (we don’t have stairs at home).

The same applies to the more “vacationy” activities around us. We can’t always afford admission for six at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (in which case, as you may know, the nearby–and free–Hatfield Marine Science Center has its own charms). But as a large family, we have discovered that it’s easy to pay for an annual membership, as it’s not much more than a one-day pass. If we have a membership, we can treat the Aquarium as an extension of our home environment. We don’t need to feel that we are getting our money’s worth by seeing as much as we can, by gorging on everything that’s available. If we want to spend an hour in the theater, with its aquatic animal costumes, puzzles and books, we can do so without regret. If someone just needs a shark fix, we can head straight for the tunnel.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous person. If you or your children crave the thrill of new places and experiences, I salute you. Occasionally, this is what we want as well. But for the most part, what we are trying to do is go home.

New Year’s Resolutions for Parents and Families

This week’s guest post is from Cindy M. Knapp, MS, LMFT, RPT-S. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Cindy.


A new year often suggests that we take note of where our lives are at. I wondered what parents had to say about resolutions they were making for themselves and their families for the coming year. I looked at a number of popular websites and read some other blogs. I found that there were common thoughts everywhere.

Most parents seem to feel pressured to DO more, or somehow to BE more. There’s a lot of unnecessary guilt because of expectations parents place on themselves. However, the theme that showed up most in my research is that most parents are longing to feel more connected to their partners and their children; to be closer.

Here are some simple ideas that might help you accomplish this goal, too:


  • Take a few minutes after dinner one night a week and write down one idea from each family member of some enjoyable, small activity that she/he would like to do with the family in the coming week. Put the idea on the family calendar, no matter how silly it might seem. Then, make sure that you consider it as important as other things on the calendar (like doctor’s appointments) and have fun!
  • Start “Single Kid Night” (or call it whatever you’d like.) If you have more than one child, you might rarely spend one-on-one time with them. Pick one night a week and set a time limit. An important part of this routine is that the child gets to pick what activity she or he wants the parent to do. You can set limits on options that are available. The family establishes that this time is not to be interrupted. This is easy to pull off if the other children understand that their time with the parent won’t be interrupted, either. If there’s more than one parent in the home, schedule “Single Kid Night” in a way that works best for you, but includes both parents spending time with each child.


  • Cut down on chaos by establishing routines in which everyone works together to take care of the home. Okay, I know, “yawn.” Probably, no one is going to be excited to work with you on this one. However, children feel good when they make a contribution to the family. Keep it simple. For example, when parents are cleaning up after dinner, have the children help with a specific assigned activity. Use encouraging language to show that you value the child’s contribution. Here’s another idea: when you get out of the car, have all the children look around and pick up some things that need to be taken out. Yes, training the children to participate takes time, but it will help you feel less stressed and more connected if everyone is allowed to help.
  • Look for opportunities to prompt siblings to do things for each other. Think of small things and encourage this often. Remember to include the younger child(ren) in doing things for the older ones. Teach the concept of how we need each other. Some examples: “I see your brother is struggling to do _____; I bet he could use your help.” “You are really good at ____ and your sister is trying to learn. Teach her, please.” Note that these are not in the form of questions. Your child can refuse, but the words suggest that we need each other.


  • Make it a priority to sit down and face each other, and check in about your day. If you don’t PLAN to do this and make it a daily ritual, it’s unlikely to happen. When you as parents work on your connection to each other, your children will see this and benefit from it. How you treat each other and the ways in which you make one another feel important and valued sets the tone for how your children act.
  • Be your partner’s best friend. According to marital researcher John Gottman, committed couples who treat their partners like good friends have a stronger bond.  In addition, you show your children behaviors you want them to learn.

Thanks to the Chaos

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.


This time of year, even more than usual, my thoughts turn to my children as they were growing up. Maybe it is the glitter of Christmas and reminiscing about holidays gone by. As an old mom of young men grown up, this happens often. A sight, smell, sound or a dream may inspire those lapses back in time down Memory Lane.

I listened to a young mom on the radio this morning talking about how she rises early for some “alone time” before her children woke up and her day turned to sheer chaos. I smiled and reflected on the chaos of my days. Life with my two youngest boys was busy to say the least. The older of the two was a gifted athlete, playing multiple sports on premier league levels in every season. My youngest likes to tell people that we were homeless often and living in our van. This may have been his perception, but we really did have a home to go to at the end of the day, tournament, or travel. Within the van we carried two coolers, one for dry foods and one for iced drinks. We had multiple duffel bags with sporting equipment and a bin with towels and changes of clothes. We carried blankets, pillows, and rain gear. We would navigate from one sports field to another, eating a meal from the coolers and changing uniforms for the next sport or game.

People who watched us either thought “What fun!” or “You’re crazy”. I guess it’s all in perception. But as I listened to this mom on the radio this morning, I related and I got tears in my eyes as I remembered those chaotic times. And nostalgia eases the pain the chaos presented in the moment.

I, too, would get up early in the morning before the kids woke up. Sometimes extremely tired, wanting those few minutes more of sleep, but knowing if I did my day would be more frantic. Those moments  gave me time for reflection, time to take stock of my gratitude (healthy boys, a job, a car that was currently running, and food for nourishment that day) and time to plan the most efficient way through the day. But it was my gratitude that gave me the strength to invite the day, its activities, and responsibilities. It helped to calm me before the energy erupted!

So to all the young mothers and fathers: hang in there! Give thanks to the chaos! Take time, somewhere in your day, for pause and reflection. And know, amid the chaos or busy adventure, that it is not the end of the story. Every day we have the opportunity to write another chapter of our family experience.


Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

Making Changes

This week we have another guest post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.


In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior, I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and continue to help me. I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are ideas I have found helpful to me.


  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.


  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction. If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.


  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and to make friends.


  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”


  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.


  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.


  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self-talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.


  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with, and what things help, your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.


  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.


  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.


We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.


Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Tips for Shopping Trips: Toddlers to Teens

This week’s guest post is by Julie Whitus. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Julie.


As a mother of six children, I have had some traumatic experiences in grocery stores, including meltdowns, tantrums, rude looks from strangers, and just plain embarrassment. Now my oldest child is 19 years old and my youngest is three. Throughout my years as a parent, I have come up with a few helpful tips to help make grocery shopping enjoyable for the whole family.

First, I think it is important to remember these three things before going grocery shopping:

1. Avoid shopping at high traffic times (for example, the lunch hour and dinner rush).

2. Avoid shopping when anyone is really hungry or really tired.

3. Create safety rules and before entering the store, and help your children recite them. For my family they are simple: walk, hold on to cart, and use indoor voices.

Toddler Tips

Play I Spy

While at the grocery store with a toddler, go near the item you are looking for and say, “We need bananas; what color are bananas?” “Can you help me find the yellow bananas?” This gives your toddler something to do and they enjoy helping. You can also include them in weighing produce on the scales.

Counting Games

When choosing items such as yogurt or canned foods, have your toddler help to count them or place them in the cart.

Elementary School Age Tips

Write the Shopping List

If your child loves to write or plan, have them help you write the list. My  8 year-old loves this part of shopping.

Find the Aisle, Food, and Best Price

This requires more creativity than playing I Spy with the toddler. Say things like, “Hmm, I am looking for cereal; what aisle is that in?” “We need cereal; what does that start with? Do you see an aisle that has cereal on the sign?” Depending on age and development, sometimes I make it a game and ask which child can find the best priced item.

Tips for Teens

Menu Planning

Have your teens pick a night to cook. They can plan out the ingredients and     budget. This is great because it gives the teens a mission, their choice of a meal, and an understanding of the cost of food. Also, teenagers can help to write out the shopping list, find the items and do the math to keep it to a budget.

I know as a mom that a trip to the grocery store can be challenging. Just remember that children love to help and have a developmental need to be stimulated. Feel free to try these tips or come up with your own. Of course, nothing works all the time and if a meltdown occurs, it’s okay…it happens.


Julie Whitus is an ISRS (In-Home Safety and Reunification Services) Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.