An Open Letter to Parents

Parenting can be tough. It's a full-time job, there are pretty much no days off, and there's no definitive manual on how to do it right. There's plenty of resources to choose from regarding parenting tips or support either online or at any bookstore...which is sometimes helpful, and other times overwhelming. Having worked with families in private practice and in the school setting, families who have faced all sorts of struggles big and small, I feel it would be useful to provide some thoughts about arguably the toughest job in the world.

For one, kids are much smarter than you think. They're pretty insightful themselves and easily impressionable. This is a blessing because it gives you the opportunity to shape your home and family life the way you want it to be. Take caution, though. They also pick up on your energy. Your mannerisms. The language you use and the ways in which you communicate your needs. How you deal with distress. I want to express that it's perfectly fine for your children to see that you're upset or stressed out because they need to witness how to handle bad days. They're going to have some of their own, and you're the best teacher for how to overcome them.

Kids are also very resilient. More than most give them credit for. I've had the honor in working with children who have faced horrific circumstances. Watching them externalize their troubles, reorganize their thoughts, learn to trust their emotions and tear down the monsters that have plagued their childhood has been inspiring and has provided me proof in the power of the human condition. Before rescuing them from every monster they come across, try to find ways to empower them first.

It's good to have expectations, but be patient with your kids. Meet them where they are - not where you want them to be. Give them a little room to grow towards the sunlight. It's pretty common for parents to fall into the habit of comparing their kids and their accomplishments, but be careful. Projecting one child's experience onto the other's can be harmful.

What may work for one of your kids may not work for the other. Don't give up on age-appropriate responsibilities such as house chores because one approach didn't work. Use trial-and-error. Learn what motivates your kids and sculpt around that. Extrinsic motivators work to a degree, but understand that intrinsic motivation is valuable for a lifetime.

Boundaries are not just helpful. They're essential. You're the parents. Take an authoritative approach and give them a voice, but you run the show in the end. Don't try to be your child's friend. You can be friend-ly, but not their friend. They can get enough of those on their own. They need a parent. A consistently available and responsive attachment figure is irreplaceable. Kids need a secure base when life is a mess. When they want to take chances and explore the universe. When they're uncertain of who they are and what they should do. And no one provides that secure base better than a parent. It's the greatest gift you can give to your children.

Divorce may mean the end of a marriage, but not the end of the family unit. You're both still parents and it's still a family to your children. I know that there are exceptions depending on the nature of the divorce; but more often than not, successful coparenting is absolutely a possibility and makes a huge difference in the overall wellness of your kids.

If you have a concern, contact their school counselor about it and keep them in the loop. School counselors are very helpful. They can give you perspective as to how your child is behaving in an environment outside of the home - which can really provide clarity on things! They can also offer resources within the community if necessary. You may even be worrying about something that might not even be a problem at all.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me at and know that if you are having troubles with effective parenting, don't hesitate to see a counselor and invest in the wellness of your family.