Let’s Give Mothers the Help They Really Need

(Scroll down for this months Q&A)

Mom needs helpWhile I believe parenting, whether done primarily by a mother or a father, is indeed the hardest and most important job anyone will ever undertake, I do not think that society as a whole gives parenting more than lip service. On Mother’s Day we give mothers that pat on the back, a card and maybe some flowers fulfilling that obligation. If indeed we consider parenting to be a tough job, and we know that children make up our future, why do we not give parents every opportunity to do the job well?

We certainly consider doctoring a critically important job, hence the years of training necessary to do it. The same can be said of many jobs. We need education to drive a car, fly a plane, be a teacher, work in a bank, etc. But giving birth and raising a child to adulthood requires none at all. We place so little value on the job of mothering that most think a stay-at-home mom “doesn’t do anything”. The support other countries give to their mothers makes us look like a third world country.

Every mother out there, whether satisfied or dissatisfied with her parenting, will tell you how important it is to know what to do and how to do it—and how little time she has to do it in. From understanding child development and individual temperaments, to setting appropriate expectations for a child, to being able to translate child behavior so a parent doesn’t fly off the handle every time a child screams, “No,” a parent’s-day-in-and-day-out responses to children can be critical to the future of our society.

I will argue that every abhorrent and dysfunctional behavior that costs our society megabucks as well as lives can be traced back to how that person was raised. We can argue that we have been raising children from the beginning of time and there’s nothing to learn. “I was raised that way, and I turned out just fine.” Oh yeah? Exactly the evidence needed to argue for parenting education. None of us know what our potential would be had we been raised differently. Not to mention how changed our present day culture is from the one we were raised in, our parents and grandparents were raised in.

We don’t even understand behavior. We react to it at face value. If we like it, we reward it, and if we don’t, we punish it. Rarely do we look beneath the surface to see the emotional needs that provoke the behavior so our reactions do not explode out of our mouths and catastrophize dire forecasts of our child’s future.

Many mothers do better jobs than others, and many children are easier to raise than others. The fit of a mother and child’s temperaments often make the critical difference between raising a healthy child whose needs have been satisfied and an unhealthy child who desires external stimulants (often at the cost of society) to fulfill those needs. Many of our addictions, dependencies, physical and mental health issues have direct roots in parenting. And all of us who are parenting have roots deeply embedded in our childhoods that can derail our best intentions in a nano-second.

Isn’t it about time we celebrated Mother’s Day with the gift of valuing the job done by supporting parents with parenting classes in all communities, with maternal and paternal paid leave so new lives do not start out struggling, with huge tax credits for parents who chooses to stay home to raise or home-school children, with more flex time in work environments—with a general shift in societal attitudes. Would we get stuck in the quagmire of invasion of personal rights or would this save the government billions and help us raise a healthier society?

You might also like: Equal Pay for Mother’s? No One Could Afford It.

or: For Mother’s Day: Is Mothering the Hardest Job?


Questions and Answers

Poop Still an Issue

molly on pot webQ. My dilemma is a very bright 4.5 year old with a history of sensory issues who continues to poop in his pants. No poops in pants happen if I schedule bathroom visits into our day, but if I am negligent in getting him there it can happen up to four times a day. He says he cannot feel when he needs to go, and I have observed that he is a “fast pooper”. I am stepping back from the repair, having him put on the clean clothes himself after he cleans himself up. I used to reassure but I’m trying to stress the importance of pooping in the toilet. He starts kindergarten next year and I am starting to get scared he will still be soiling his pants. Help!

A. I know how endless this process feels. It sounds like you are handling it well by giving him the responsibility for cleaning himself and putting on clean clothes. I think you can continue to reassure him that he will have complete control of his body before long at the same time you are stressing the importance of using the toilet. It is important for you to be understanding that he just doesn’t have the control yet. Poop in his pants feels similar to poop in a diaper. But pee is fully absorbed by a diaper so wet underpants are far more unpleasant. I imagine things will change by the time kindergarten arrives and you might be surprised to see how well he handles his control there. This is not at all unusual so patience is paramount. Do not let kindergarten pressure you to pressure him. He needs to take his own time.

Worry Warts have High Expectations of Themselves

Q. My sweet, amazing 7-year-old daughter is absolutely miserable and beating herself up about really minor things Anxious Childthat she feels guilty about. She wants me to write her teacher (1st grade) with little apologies. One thing did need discussing– looking at a friend’s paper and copying an answer for a math problem. But everything else is super minor–as in touching the classroom turtle’s tank when she had forgotten not to, or saying to me that she liked one kid better than another and then thinking she was the worst person in the world for thinking that (even though the she only told me). She is a kind, thoughtful child who is quick to make a special card for someone or donate her money to help some animal or project she’s heard about (she gave all of her saved money for an American Girl Doll to help Syrian refugees get baby carriers, for example).

A. Age six is typically the peak of developmental perfectionism. Adding this to a sensitive, emotional temperament can lead her to put high expectations on herself. She may be naturally nurturing and empathic. Model for her being relaxed, making mistakes, possibly lowering expectations of her behavior, and not being worried about her worry. Let go of any tendency to fix her problem. Admire how concerned and thoughtful she is but do not praise her. Keep things light and then add that the downside of that amount of concern or worry is being really hard on yourself. She can work toward the middle and do just fine. Share little things that worry you and what you do about it. Let her know that we all worry. Don’t tell her not to—that just compounds her worry. Worry can be helpful. When it gets in her way ask her to talk to it. Maybe she can personify it. “Sounds like your worry wart is concerned that your teacher is not going to be happy with you.” Ask her to talk to that part of her that thinks she’s a bad person and tell that part what she’d like it to know. Ask her if that part is helpful in any way. She might be able to eventually say, “Worry, thank you for showing up but I can handle this.”

The Need for Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice CircleQ. Recently a small group of upstanding high school seniors from my son’s school took a school trip to Italy. They went to a club, where they legally had one drink. One of the kids “snap chatted’ about the experience. When they returned, a classmate chided one of the students about it in class. These students have never done anything wrong, so being exposed, they decided to come forward and confess to their mistake as school rules of no drinking apply during class trips. The school punished them quite severely. One of them is the Valedictorian and is now not allowed to give her speech at graduation and is stripped of her National Honors Society membership, none of them are allowed to go to Washington DC for their senior class trip, all were suspended for 3 days of school, all athletes were thrown off their sports teams, etc. I feel there is a better approach to this situation, and would love your input. If you could advise the administration, what would you suggest? To work so hard for 4 years (esp. the Valedictorian), and have their high school experience end like this is upsetting to me as a bystander.

A. I share your outrage about these punishments. What I would suggest to the administration is to hold a restorative justice circle so all could explain why they thought it would be okay to have a drink and how they could make amends to the school knowing the rule that was broken. The circle should include all the students from the Italy trip, their parent/s, other students in the school community who wished to take part, and as many of the administration as would like to be present. Everyone should have a chance to say how they felt (there is a clear process for restorative justice circles) and how they were affected by the incident. Then the students would come up with a plan to make amends for breaking the rule. This would of course need to be agreed on by all. Punishments like these drive students and administrations further apart, break down trust, and encourage students to sneak ways of breaking rules and retaliate. If I were you, I would use this as a learning experience with your son to talk about what he thinks would be fair and just.



A mom shared her perception shift about her son from giving up, feeling only negative and hopeless toward him and herself, to being understanding, empathic and loving:

It was a total change of attitude from me. I now come from a place of peace and respect. I think of him as a boy in pain. I honour the power of the emotions that come up, his and mine. I talk about the things that I see happening and that I care about how he feels but I don’t want to be called stupid, etc. I don’t let anything go, I respond calmly. I deal with what is in front of me without projecting into the future. I am trusting that I am doing the best I can, that he is doing the best he can and that things will work out how they will. I remind myself and him that I am the parent and he is the child and it is my job to keep him safe. It is still early days of my change in attitude, but it is getting better. He is a much happier boy. I don’t really know why but I do feel like we are on the same team now and he must feel that. Sometimes it comes easily to me and sometimes it feels like it takes a monumental effort not to get angry but it is so much better. My lovely boy is chatting and answering my questions now, which is still surprising to me.

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24 comments on “Newsletter
  1. amy russell says:

    So true. I appreciate the simplicity of the message: let go of the fear and be there. Thank you.

  2. Anita says:

    How very true! I feel so guilty of not been able to do just this 1 thing – “Be there for her”.
    But as I read this article, I find some hope that it is never too late to change

  3. Amelia Trabilsie says:

    That’s brilliant Bonnie, I can never get enough of these messages; sometimes the same message “wrapped up” in different ways, and every time it makes it more and more easy to absorb and take on board in an unconscious/subconscious way. Thank you for these gifts Bonne! Warmest Amelia 🙂

  4. Kristi says:

    Amen Bonnie,
    For many years my son was overwhelmed with the stimuli of the world and fell apart multiple times daily. He would become a screaming, writhing, spitting creature who scratched his own face to bleeding trying to deal with the difficulty of ordering food from a menu! So many public breakdowns it was so hard to know what we should be doing! Get tough and demand that he “behave”? Well that really didn’t help. Thanks to you and a local therapist I learned not to get caught up in MY emotions when he was out of control of his, just be there. We learned to limit the stressors for him. Today he is a different kid. Successfully navigating the high school waters of intellectual, social and physical challenges and knows when he has had enough and needs to have some downtime. As a primary care provider who sees a lot of parents struggling-I tell them to relax-be there, keep them safe and don’t take their behavior personally- and of course I recommend your books and website! Keep up the great work, and thank you.

    • admin says:

      Kristi – Thank you so much for this comment. I hope everyone reads it. I may even add it to another article when I share parents experiences. You have been in the trenches and know what it’s like to have a difficult kid, didn’t try to change him, and came out the other end with a great kid. These stories are so important for parents to read.

    • Betsy says:

      “Don’t take their behavior personally” — This has become a mantra for me, thanks to Bonnie’s advice. I wish I had employed it when she was a toddler and preschooler. But better late than never!

  5. Amber says:

    hi bonnie,
    thanks for sharing this. I worry about my daughter a lot too, but I guess I don’t give her enough credit either.

  6. Kirsten says:

    This was a timely piece for me. Had just done back to school night and came home to an 11 year old anxious about leaving all his school work at a friend’s house. He was anxious and I had listened to the message of the night, “let them have these experiences where it is safe, don’t rescue them, 70% of this year is organization”, but I knew what my own child needed in order to sleep wasn’t my fear that he wasn’t ever going to pull it together…I also have a much more emotionally challenging middle son (9) and he is often trying so hard, but so inflexible about the actions of others, and still having tantrums, yet intelligent, sweet, and sensitive, sometimes the scariest part is when we aren’t present and then everything gets catastrophic. I was pleased to see the comment above and curious as to how Kristi got through the trenches without worrying about the impact on the family and her son’s self image ?

  7. Amelia Trabilsie says:

    Kristi your comment was so good to read, thank you too 🙂

  8. Leah Davies says:

    I love your quote, “You are your child’s mountain. While she swirls and blows like a hurricane, sometimes a tornado, around you, she needs to count on your stability and most of all your faith that she has and will continue to have whatever it takes to get through whatever it is” That is wonderful advice. – See more at:

    For 11 additional complimentary parenting handouts, video, and activity that is dedicated to helping parents raise responsible, caring adults, see:

  9. Kristi says:

    In response to Kirsten’s question: it wasn’t elegant, or seamless or a straight path, (and still isn’t) that’s for sure – but I think that is the essence of parenting. No matter what our virtual personas (or that of our friends) depicts to the outside world. It’s messy and scary. Parenting can be like walking alone in a dark forest. We learned to recognize early when WE needed counsel, we also allowed our son a chance to intermittently work with a child therapist, and brought along his sibling. One of my biggest realizations was: I needed to let go of MY agenda for my child. He is who he is, AND he is not this behavior currently. I learned (to try) not to get attached to ANY behavior, whether I liked it or didn’t like it, because it is likely to change. The family dynamic is a huge challenge always. My husband and I try to find common ground and create a united front. We learned it didn’t matter what other people thought we should do with our child, including family… we simplified life. Keep them fed, safe, loved. Keep looking out of the trench occasionally for some inspiration Kirsten and remember “This too shall pass” !

    • admin says:

      Kristi – This is so beautifully put. I so appreciate your response. I totally agree – families are a messy business not matter that they look like. Parenting is the hardest job on the planet. I love the steps of your realizations and how you maneuvered your way.
      Thanks for this.

  10. MK says:

    What you write Bonnie rings so true for me. What can I do when I realise that the way I was parented undermined my confidence and felt like it cut me off at the knees. I feel I have very little resilience myself and don’t want to make the same mistakes. How can I build my own confidence along with my daughters?

    • admin says:

      MK – What you are describing is exactly why I wrote my book, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons. It is all about how our own childhood experiences effect how we parent our children – and most importantly, what we can do about it. I would highly recommend checking it out. You can get my book on amazon, you can get the audio download version of it on my website, you can also order the workbook filled with exercises to go along with it. And I have a When Your Kids Push Your Buttons teleseminar available for download that is 12 hours of the Buttons workshop and has the workbook included for more intense work. You can read about it here.

  11. i love the simplicity of this message! This is a challenge for me at home with two teenagers and the ups and downs that teenage life brings. I recognize how my frustration may have actually been perpetuated by my own actions of protecting and solving problems that they should be given the chance to handle themselves. With a college student 1200 miles away this challenge becomes more complicated at times. My goal is to practice by stepping back this week.
    Bonnie… I would love to add a link for this article on my preschool blog, which is private to families enrolled at The Amherst Preschool. Is that possible?
    Thank you
    Ellen Grudzien

  12. The question about teen disrespect brought up a few things for me.
    I’m passionate about this because I grew up with a father like this. He rarely listened to me. He only wanted a relationship on his terms. He was disrespectful to me and never apologized. As a result even as an adult I was never able to be close to him (Despite many attempts). Because he couldn’t be human with me I never respected him. Instead I felt sad for both of us. He was too proud to meet me as a human being. We both lost something valuable.

    In many families, ideas about “obedience” and “respect” get intertwined. Obedience is an action, respect is a feeling. Obedience comes from power over and respect comes from power with. Obedience is enforced using power and it disconnects the two people involved (and creates escalating power struggles). Respect relies on relationship and connections and comes from influence, not force. Like toddlers who are learning who they are in the world, teens too go through a developmental stage of learning about power. When a 4 year old is stubborn and says no or demands that she has to do it her way it can still be “cute”. Not so with a 14 year old.
    14 year olds want to be engaged and respected. This comes from listening, being humble and over and over again repairing mistakes. Adults get to lead on this. (We have the more developed prefrontal cortex).
    Working with a partner who is demanding obedience is challenging but using the same tools that are effective with teens work for partners too. Connect before correct.
    When (teen) is yelling and being inappropriate, it seems like you are worried that he will not grow up to be a healthy adult. You dream of having a son who has manners and treats others respectfully. I appreciate it that you are willing to stand up for me (This is the connect).
    Then the correct or request: My request is that when you sense he is being disrespectful to me that you ask before you intervene. I promise I won’t ignore the problem. My approach will be to wait until things calm down and then ask him to make a repair. I want him to be able to make mistakes – even if they are disrespectful and then have time to think about them and repair them.

    The other thing this mom can do is coach her son on making repairs and asking for repair. If the relationship isn’t already too strained it could be a gift to his dad. Eg. Dad, you were right. It was not cool for me to yell at mom. I’ve apologized to mom. I also didn’t like it when you called the police. When you are ready I’d like an apology and would like to make a plan about how to solve problems when you are angry.

  13. Karen Daley says:

    My husband and I have been having this food argument since our son started solid foods. He’s 10 now. My husband still eats as if he’s a teenager, pizza, chips, pop,etc. & I gave up junk food when I became an adult, minus my once a month sugar fix a week before my cycle starts. We work different shifts so when I’m home it’s all the good stuff & when my husband is home he’s either a short order cook, making two different meals or they are munching on take out (grease & more grease)when there is a full fridge of healthy options. My son knows all about healthy eating & all the good stuff is served in school. How do we all get on the same “healthy eating” page?

    • admin says:

      Karen, it is of course important to convince your husband that modeling good food eating and having only good food in your house is important. You might talk to him about what he thinks in terms of his own health and if he approves of your son following in his tracks. Make sure he understands how serious you are about this issue and what your worry is.

  14. Mary Ellen says:

    In response to “Transitions from Day Care”, sometimes children fall apart because they are exhausted from their day. Not because of stress or because they don’t want to stop playing, but because they have run out of inner resources. None of us deals well with change at the end of a long day, but people will look funny if we act howwe are really feeling! :o)

    • admin says:

      Thank you Mary Ellen. You are so right. I include exhaustion and lacking inner resources with stress. Stress comes in many degrees and varieties. When children are stressed in any way, they need our understanding and patience more than ever.

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"I am constantly astonished and delighted by your rich and insightful answers to parents. I have been a therapist for many years and I work with children as well as adults. Yet with all my experience and my knowledge, there is something so strong and assured about your views on child/parent relationships that they continue to engage and add to my knowledge."
When Your Kids Push Your Buttons
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