Siblings: Rivalry and Revelry

What is the hardest thing to share, especially when you are very young? Your parents. They are the people you count on when you are not yet independent.  Parents provide the various kinds of sustenance to survive and thrive.  Children are housed, fed, protected, indulged, entertained, educated and loved.

The first child, once dubbed “the royal experiment”, has had it all – time, attention and love. Then, along comes a tiny interloper who has even more needs. So, #1 needs to share what was once all theirs.  At times, they need to be more patient, more quiet and more independent. What’s more difficult to share than one’s prized possession?  That’s what we are to our small children.  Although it’s our doing to bring a sibling into our home, it’s easier for #1 to pick on someone smaller –   hence, sibling rivalry.

For some children, it’s easier when the newborn just eats and sleeps.  Depending on the age and personality of the first child, they may be uninterested in the little bundle or want to hold and play with the new arrival.  As time passes, things change.  With each new phase of development that the baby achieves, it can be more fun…. or not, for the first child.  For example, a newborn is not going to interfere with big brother’s possessions but a crawling, and then, walking toddler will want to imitate their older sibling and play with their things.  Aging up, younger children want to hang out with the older sibling and his/her friends.  Imitation is flattery but #1 may not see it that way!

When handled well, rivalry has benefits. Children act on their wants and needs,  and eventually learn to negotiate and work out a solution. These abilities will come in handy as they mature.  Parents can help teach those skills, indirectly and directly.  Children observe parents and imitate.  They watch how parents cope with differences, with their spouse, their own parents, friends, etc.  Do they yell or use the ‘silent treatment’?  When parents are able to have a respectful discussion and come to a compromise, observing them is a learning experience for their offspring.  More directly, parents can help their young children by explaining the differences in the abilities of each of them [to the other] when they are having a problem.  “Your sister is too young to know when she hurts you”  or “ Your brother really needs some quiet time to be able to really talk…”.

While there may be resentment in needing to share, there is also the opportunity to have a sibling who is closer in size, dependence, levels of energy and enjoyment than the adults. There will be things to giggle about that grownups just don’t get.  They may also learn to team up with each other in order to bargain with parents. Although we see the rivalry, most older siblings would defend and protect their younger siblings if they were bullied.  Parents are relieved and entertained watching their children play well together and be affectionate.  It’s comforting to imagine their future adult friendship when we are gone.

We cringe at the rivalry and rejoice in the revelry. Both are essential.





Children and Frustration

Children and Frustration

Life is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  We all need the ability to delay gratification.  You begin a job and need to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.  It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…we  bide our time.

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, the baby learns to delay a little. Just hearing a soothing voice that the bottle or something is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying need.  Most young children prefer to skip dinner and go straight to the goodies but parents help children learn to be patient, an essential  lesson in life.

In order to succeed in delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children must learn that they are not the center of the universe and sometimes other things and people, come first. That reality is introduced quickly when there are siblings,  also clamoring for attention.  Day care and school are arenas where learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

child behavior problemsParents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, set up a pattern.  When children carry on and then get their way, they learn that is how to get what they want. Those who can’t tolerate frustration often become demanding and self-centered. Compromise is not in their vocabulary because they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  That entitled way of looking at the world will likely present problems in personal and professional relationships.

It’s hard for a parent to say “no”.  We derive pleasure from seeing our children delight in our offerings.  We want them to have everything and yet…we adults need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts.  The no is a healthy breeding ground for learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and to care about others and their needs.  That is our lasting gift of their success in life.






Kids…Frustration…A Good Thing

child behavior problemsLife is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  That means we all need the ability to delay gratification.  You may begin a job and have to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.   It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, that little baby can wait a little. Just hearing mother’s soothing voice that the bottle is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying one’s need.  Back to that dessert.  Young children might prefer to skip the healthy dinner and go straight to the goodies and the whining begins.  Parents help the children learn how to wait, an important skill in life.

In order to succeed in the life skills of delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children need to learn that they are not the center of the universe and, at times, other things and people, come first. That reality pops up quickly if there are siblings, who are also clamoring for attention.  Day care is another arena where the reality of learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

Parents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, are setting up a pattern.  We need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts to our children.  They can be the breeding ground of learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and consider the needs of others.If a child tantrums and get results, they are going to learn that’s how to get their way. Those who don’t learn to tolerate frustration can become demanding and self-centered. They often have problems with intimate relationships as well as friendship.  Compromise is not in their vocabulary as they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  Their entitled way of looking at the world can present problems in personal and professional relationships.

So, the next time you have to utter a reasonable “no”, don’t feel you are a meanie but simply a mindful parent, setting a precedent for a patient, caring person.














Before You Blend…

 If you’re a parent who is widowed, separated from a partner or divorced and you plan to couple or marry another person with children, you are forming a blended family. Before you jump in,  please consider the following:

  • Don’t rush things

Take all the time you need to reliably assess the new relationship, especially if your last experience was a breakup.  Since none of us is perfect, and everyone puts their best foot forward during early dating, be sure that you are compatible with each other’s quirks and flaws. Really get to know each other first and be absolutely certain about your relationship.   That should take a while, at least a year.  Although you have met the ‘right’ person, don’t expect it to be an instant  attraction for your children.

You have likely exchanged pictures and told stories about the children’s personalities.  Share family rituals that your children are used to – mealtimes, play, homework, bedtime routines, chores, birthdays, vacations.  Discuss religion and how you handle extended family relationships and gatherings.  The more you know about each other’s families, the more you’ll be able to preview, and deal with, any problems that may arise. Your blended family will be able to establish some new family rituals.

Discuss your parenting styles and how the two of you can complement your differences. Then, plan some brief meetings, on neutral ground, with fun activity, to minimize any awkwardness. 

  • Meeting the children

Arrange a first, brief meeting for your partner and your children, without his/her  children. S/he can give full attention to your children and there’s no need to overwhelm them with other children at first.   A few more meetings with the other adult would be beneficial before all of the children meet for some activity that all could enjoy.

  •  Talk with your children

Imagine your children’s perspective – dealing with a new parent figure and his/her children.  There will be some new rules and rituals.  They may feel they are losing part of you, having to share you with a new adult and other children.   Be clear about how the adults will run the household –  baths, media, play dates, curfews.  Especially, in the beginning, it’s useful for a blended parent to say “your mom/dad said you need to …”  when doling out limits and rules.

Ask (but don’t dwell) about your child’s experience of meeting the new ‘blends’ in an age appropriate way. What was good and what was hard for them?  See if it’s reasonable and feasible to follow their lead for their next meeting.  When you tell them that they will be in a blended family, help them be comfortable with how they address that person.  Don’t expect it to be “mom” or “dad”.  Even if you are widowed, children, above a certain age, might feel disloyal to bestow that venerable title to other than their bio parent.  When there is a bio parent, loyalty feelings are rampant and that could cause dissonance with your former/partner spouse.  A blended parent can begin by being a special friend…love can follow.

*    Give it time

Re-coupling and remarriage are adult decisions. There will  be some changes for each member of the newly blended family – school, a new home, friends, family rituals, etc.  Adjustment takes time and discussion.  Talk with your own children first and, depending on their ages, then there’s time to have a blended family meeting, with some limitations set by the adults.  Each child can share something that is hard for him/her and something s/he likes.  Allow time for the new relationships to gel…blended parents and blended siblings.  Addressing their feelings and facilitating some alterations will go a long way toward  bonding and what can be a wonderful experience.






Kale in My Smoothie

relationships be open and observeI don’t like kale but it seems to be so healthy, why deny myself ?  I love the banana, mango, blackberry, sometimes peanut butter, milk and other berries [depending on what’s in the refrigerator] , a great way to start the day.  One weekend visit, my cousin made a smoothie with some of the above…and kale. I watched her make it and thought “yuk” but I did taste it.  (Don’t we tell our kids, “Just try one bite” ?)  It looked nice and green and was… delicious.  I never even tasted the kale.  Now, and for years, I feel even healthier and savor it daily.

Lessons learned:

  • Observe
  • Be open to new things
  • Sample [give a chance]
  • Enjoy and benefit from the above

Can’t we say the same thing about relationships and experiences? How many times have we not gotten to know someone better because they didn’t fill some of our preconceived expectations?  Not being open to new things and people shrinks our perspective and limits our quality of life.  Giving someone new a chance to appreciate them and/or their differentness can open new horizons for us.  Possibilities are  enriching and endless.


Recipe For A Good Divorce

Divorce is not easy  but if you prepare it together, and follow the directions below, you can be proud to serve it up.


  1. Two partners who know they can’t to stay together
  2. Be ready for a pinch of heartache and eventual happiness
  3. Liberal measures of honesty and trust
  4. Strive to dissolve the relationship/marriage respectfully
  5. Share pertinent information and really listen to each other
  6. A sense of where s/he wants to be in 5 years
  7. Willingness to negotiate conflicts with thinking, not feeling
  8. Develop the ability to forgive, necessary in all recipes
  9. Agree on cooperative co-parenting, if there are children

recipe for a good divorce








Chill the first ingredient. It must not get overheated !  Sift the next four ingredients, then add to the first, and stir, tolerantly.  Blend the next three ingredients and blend into the first batch. Be patient and let it rise.  It is ready to be baked at a low, steady temperature with understanding and empathy. Allow the cake to cool and then feel good about your efforts and results.  If you have the last ingredient [children], that’s icing on the cake.  Be sure the cake is cool enough.   Stir, gently and smooth on the cake.  Beautiful.  Take a picture and feel proud of your collaborative creation.

Note: These good and healthy ingredients will allow for  errors, especially if you add liberal amounts of #8

Gray Divorce

Although divorce rates have stabilized and appear to be inching downward, couples between ages 50 and 64 are increasingly choosing to come apart. In 1990, one out of ten, in that age group, were getting divorced.  Now it’s one out of four.

Here are some of the reasons for gray divorce:

  • The stigma of divorce has faded.
  • Divorce is easier to obtain than years ago.
  • Long-term unhappiness.
  • Waiting until the kids are grown.
  • Spouses evolve and don’t communicate.
  • People want to discover themselves…alone or with someone new.
  • Couples drift apart and feel a lack of fulfillment.
  • Many cite wanting more freedom and control.
  • Women are tired of caretaking and feel a loss of respect.
  • Men are tired of supporting a wife who doesn’t appreciate them.
  • “It’s my time now and there may be little time left.”
  • Some cite their spouse’s drug or alcohol abuse.
  • “The kids are gone…new lease on life…new interests and friends.”
  • Some women are more financially independent and can now manage alone.
  • Viagra helps more men be appealing to younger women.

The consequences for the above are numerous.   Couples may be severing a relationship that began as young adults or even younger. The leaver may feel the pressure of time and want to act on feelings they have been harboring for some time.  Those who are left often feel confusion, anger, helpless during and after the divorce.  The divorce news is a major and unexpected change in life, when a spouse may be experiencing the physical and emotional aspects of being fifty plus.

Many, fifty and older, are part of the sandwich generation, coping with elderly, more needy, parents and dealing with their own children, ranging from teens to college age or even married, but still looking to parents for guidance and help. While adjusting to their middle age, they feel squeezed at both ends.

Often men, during their silver years, don’t have the same support system that women do and they isolate, possibly affecting their emotional and physical health. They are less inclined to discuss feelings.

Divorce ‘survivors’ are expected to get over grief sooner than those coping with the death of a spouse.  In death, fate ‘decides’; in divorce a spouse decides, leaving the ‘left’ feeling worse, abandoned in a different way, especially if they also need to deal with the fact that a new person is chosen.

If it is a second or third divorce for the person who didn’t make the divorce choice, the trauma of the earlier partings can exacerbate current feelings of loss, fear and anger. “Here I go again.  How will I ever trust?”

Despite all of the consequences listed above, gray divorce can offer new possibilities, if one explores new ways to cope and grow.  It’s a time to spread wings and be open to   new people and experiences as well as deepening old relationships.  Most important is to look at the ledger of your life – understand –  and love yourself.


Keeping Peace During The Holidays

Does anticipation of the holidays have you stressed – gifts to buy, people to invite, meals to make, in addition to your already busy daily schedule?  First, enjoy a slow, long,refreshing breath and then, keep reading.

The frenzy of festivities for adults inevitably trickles down to children.  They sense tension (if not the reason for it) and react.  Children are creatures of habit and find comfort in the security of routine….knowing what comes next.  It gives them some sense of control, which is something they don’t yet have much of.  As holiday preparations interfere with parents’ usual routines and their stress level increases and patience decreases, children may show signs of distress,  becoming more clingy, needy, cranky or combative.  They may present problems with activities that they normally do with relative ease.  Bedtime, waking up and going to school or their play may be affected.

If you observe any of the above, or other changes, in your child’s behavior lately, you might want to consider a quick self-check.   Are you feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilites?  Do you have less time to play or talk with your children?  Do you feel less patient when they are not being angels?  Relax.

Your first step is to help yourself.  Think of what they tell us on airplanes. ” Put your own oxygen mask on first!” OK, another deep breath.  Then you need to summon your support system – spouse, parents, family, friends – to lighten your load.  See if you can organize your time better, eliminating the frills for a while.  Only do what is most important;  some tasks and chores can wait until after the holidays.  A babysitter, even a young one who can occupy the children while you are at home, can offer some breathing space.  Maintaining some of the routines that your children are attached to helps keep them grounded.

You already know that children are often the most problematic when you really need to get something done.  Spending ten or fifteen mintues with them (a story, game or simple project that they can continue with themselves) should allow you to return to your task more peacefully.  If what you are doing is something they can participate in (making cookies, etc.), even at a very simple level, they feel important and may actually be helpful.  Even clean-up can be done together if it’s presented as fun (“see if you can beat the clock”, etc.).  It’s easier to do if there’s a promise of  something special to follow. [“If we can finish this chore quicker, we’ll have more time to read a book together”]

Young children can feel overwhelmed by the level of activity  –  crowds of pople, having to sit on Santa’s lap, worrying about Santa and all those reindeer on the roof, having to kiss  or be adorable for scores of relatives and friends.  What we take for granted or fun can be stressful to a child, depending on their personality and age.  Taking a few moments to listen or observe your child, especially if they are not yet verbal or  inclined to express their feelings, can save a lot of time and energy.

The spirit of the season will be remembered, in the long run, not for the number of presents or events attended.  Feeling safe and secure in a loving family ignites the spark of the warm glow we feel when we think of the holidays.   Enjoy !

The Hardest Job In The World

If you want to drive a car, you have to take a course or read an informational booklet and pass a driving test,  In order to do many jobs, training and/or study is  a requirement.  Often, it seems that only parenthood requires no training or prerequisites.   Yet,most parents would agree, it is the most difficult and the most important ‘job’ of all ! How do we know that what we are doing is right?

children and stressWe are, in a way, training (to be a parent) from the day we are born.  Experiences we have with our own parents play an important role in the way we parent our children. Think about it….the ways you communicate, express anger, love, disappointment, etc.  You will likely recognize some similarities in the way you were parented.  Some families express love with hugs and kisses, words of endearment or encouragement, others with gifts.  Some people are not so comfortable with physical affection or words of praise.  Anger may be freely discharged (and then forgotten about) in one household and utterly shunned in another. How did your parents allow you to express your anger as a child?  Were you “seen but not heard” or could you vent your frustrations, and, in what ways?  A parent who was not allowed to express his/her own opinions as a child may have difficulty permitting his/her own child to do so.  Or, he/she may go to the other extreme (to NOT do what his/her parent did) by  allowing a child limitless expression.  All of the above constitutes our informal and, largely unconscious, job training for parenthood. How many times have you said, or done things that you vowed you would never do (because your parents did) ?  That is how deeply these feelings, thoughts and actions are imbedded.  We all do it sometimes.

There are other opportunities for honing parenting skills, especially if you don’t come by them naturally (ie, by familial ‘osmosis’).  Our parents, or grandparents, had Dr. Spock  if they had questions. Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in resource materials.  Any good website or bookstore has a wealth of information, begininning with pregnancy, delivery, nursing, etc., to problems with sleep, toileting, and sibling rivalry, all the way through helping children get into college. Your first difficult decision may be which book or site to choose!  Take some  time and plan to explore a few. Determine which information is organized in a reader friendly way; for example, chapters that are clearly defined so you can find what you are looking for quickly without having to read the whole book if you are short on time.  See if the writer’s style and philosophy of childrearing is something you and your family are comfortable with and can manage.

Another important and pleasurable way to gain knowledge is to vicariously experience parenting through family, friends and groups. Talking with others offers  a wonderful opportunity to stretch your parenting skills.  You can learn what might be in your future as you listen to others talk about their child(ren) who is older than yours.’ Mommy and Me’ groups are wonderful.  ‘Daddy and Me’ groups could accomplish the same goals with parent and child.    There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to parent. Each family is unique, as is each  family member. When you have gathered a variety of possible responses, you can choose  from an array of solutions that might better suit the personalities in your household.

And, that’s just the beginning.  When you have ‘launched’ your children, be prepared to be open to learning  how to grandparent.  Observe your parents doing it with your children, another great learning experience.

Single Parents in Stepfamilies

While members of blended families are concerned with dancing to different tunes and not stepping on each other’s toes, there is another member of the stepfamily, who may appear, to some, as the wallflower (male or female) – the single parent who doesn’t have a Significant Other.  Many single parents don’t  think of themselves as part of a stepfamily but they are…an important one.

The single parent may be debated as an object of derision by the new stepparent and/or the former spouse, hopefully not.   S/he can be a welcome relief pitcher to take the kids when things are too unwieldy or an emergent problem arises.  That same single parent can be a wonderful source of information.  S/he may provide new  perspectives to a stepparent about the children’s development and past experiences as well as their quirks.  In good post-divorce situations, single parents  provide reinforcement for specialized study plans, behavioral guidelines, etc.  Lastly, but crucial, never doubt  that the single parent also has the love and allegiance of his/her offspring.  Children need to feel good about both parents to feel more positive about themselves.

Single parents have their own perspectives about their position in the stepfamily.  Some feel  out of the loop, somewhat of a “lonely only”, especially when their children are at the other home.  Isolation or a sense of loss may occur when one’s former spouse has more children with a new partner.  If your self-esteem is shaky, it may seem as if the other household has more to offer, teeming with life.  As one newly single mother reflected, “There’s more joy around the holiday table in numbers.”  Invite friends and relatives but  keep in mind  that a smaller grouping can allow for more intimacy and sharing.

The single parent, not residing with family, has to do it all alone. No one  shares the household chores and parenting responsibilities. There may be no one to fall back on  when s/he is not feeling well, has to bring work home from the office or is going to be late.   One inexpensive and reliable solution is to form a babysitting coop with friends.

Discomfort may arise from a number of sources for a single parent.  There are the vagaries of reentering the world of dating, with children.  Sometimes married friends drift away and/or maintain social contact with one’s former spouse (especially when former spouses are still battling and their friends don’t want to be in the middle).  Single mothers often find themselves dropped from couple-oriented social get-togethers and are relegated to seeing their married girlfriends at lunch.  Older, single mothers commiserate about being invisible, older, single women in a youth-oriented society.  Feelings about this social sitation may be intensified by having had a former spouse who left for or married a younger woman.  Remember. in today’s world, one is never too old…60 is the new 40.

Single parents  deal with a “two against one” mentality when trying to settle parenting disagreements with a former spouse and their new partner.   One can imagine when this sort of standoff might arise…”Daddy and Anne say I can stay out all night for the prom,”etc.  Maintaining a good, working co-parenting relationship with your former spouse reduces children’s manipulations.

Being  alone can be uncomfortable at public events when both sides of the family are likely to attend. Family gatherings may be awkward because they are usually smaller and more intimate. Religious rites of passge, birthday parties, weddings, having grandchildren and celebrating other special moments can be a challenge to one’s resilience, maturity and dedication to one’s children.  Working things through with a former spouse is a relief to everyone, on these occasions, and a special gift to your children.  You, too, will likely feel more at ease.

After a second divorce, different issues may arise for divorced parents who are both single again. Each parent may have renewed, upset feelings about the romantic life of the other.  It is useful to understand the source of such feelings and get past them.  Sometimes it may seem more permissible to intervene in what goes on at a former spouse’s house when there is not a new partner. When the war continues to be waged on two battlefields….not a good situation. Having two single parents  is especially difficult for only children and those whose parents go through multiple divorces. With no full-time partner to distract and absorb them, some parents seek emotional gratification from their children, instead of other adults.  ALL parents, married or divorced, need to adapt to a new level of ‘separation’ with a support system other than the  children.

Single parents in stepfamilies  benefit from forming  a new lifestyle.  The more you value yourself and feel competent, the more you feel entitled to happiness.  Developing a good self-image which goes beyond one’s role in the family. Friends, work and interests fill in some of the gaps left by a former spouse.  When we feel reasonably good within ourselves, we are in a better position to utilize outside supports.  If this is not your profile, support groups and workshops are an excellent solution to meeting others who”know what you are talking about”.  A stepfamily therapist can be invaluable.There are many avenues to be single, but not alone.  It’s worth taking a stroll !