Tag Archives: discipline

How to Divide and Conquer as a Single Mom

Larry Jones Illustration

Larry Jones Illustration

The past two months have been a blur. In one respect, they can be described as a struggle. If I flip this way of thinking, however, the two months have been filled with teaching moments.  I’ve been relatively absent from this blog. At one point, I wrote this post: Finding Forgiveness in Parenting, which will give you an inkling of how many of my moments have been filled. For two months I’ve been drowning in a sea of temper tantrums, kicking, hitting, spitting and other tyrannical behavior from my four-year-old—while also trying my hardest to be present for my 11-year-old’s important events:  soccer tournaments, violin concerts, open house, graduation, etc. (School ends in Calif. in late June!) As the child of a single mom whose dad is in Europe, I constantly worry about how hard it is for my older son to go to all of  these events: soccer weekend tournaments, graduation, open house nights at school, concerts, etc. where he is usually the only child without a dad present. I worry.

All the time.

But, of course, that worrying doesn’t do anything effective. At the same time, his little brother is behaving badly.

Very badly.

He seems to take out his aggression, however, only on me. So, while I’m trying to cheer on his big brother at a soccer game, or even during his graduation ceremony, there is screaming. “No!” Or his new favorite: “I hate You!” Or, his most effective tactic: he just starts kicking and hitting me with the occasional hair pull or spit in the face. I tend to leave wherever we are with the little brother, put him in time out—sometimes holding down his arms and legs when necessary to make him stay in time out. Some days I also take away the ice cream, or the playdate or the fun later in the day, etc. Meanwhile, the big brother doesn’t get any attention during his big moments. How many violin concerts have I left before his solo? How many times did I have to leave the soccer field before he made a goal or assisted with a goal? How embarrassing was it during graduation to hear his little brother scream? Clearly, garnering attention—any kind of attention—is exactly what the little brother wants. I’d love to leave him at home every time there is a big event. But I can’t always do that, as I can’t always afford the sitter costs for the many events I’d need them for.

Sigh …

Sometimes I just get defeated. Managing these two boys, as well as my burgeoning book and freelance writing, is about all I can do. And I don’t always do that well. Just this week, I took a break from a very important relationship. I need to right now. I barely have energy every day to tread water. And, it doesn’t help that my little guy doesn’t fall asleep until 10 p.m. every night as he’s filled with kinetic energy. (No he doesn’t get sugar or juice after 5p.m. … This is just his anxious, nervous energy state of being.)

So, it would be very easy for me to be filled with pity or exhaustion or just bitterness. It would be very easy to get jealous of the married couples, or divorced, but still in the same town, parents who can “divide and conquer”. You know, the mom who can take Johnny to soccer, while the dad takes Lilly to ballet. Kids sometimes need individualized attention. Mine certainly do. Clearly, my youngest will demand attention via a gut-wrenchingly loud decibel or with an equally painful kick, hit, bite, punch or thrown object. It’s not okay. I will stop it. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to accept and embrace this life. It’s just the way it is and I have to find ways to still have fun with my little guy and keep him from demanding all the attention from his big brother’s big moments.

I have worked with many people and teachers to create charts for good behavior with fun rewards. I’ve also come up with consistent discipline tactics. Nothing is working really well with the dynamic that currently is: both needing my attention now.

So, I’ve decided, to just divide an conquer as a single mom. Which is trickier than it seems—but I am becoming adept at finding ways to do this. While I don’t have any family here in California, I do have great friends, a good daycare and a wonderful babysitter. While it’s not always ideal, I am finding ways to make it work. The older son is often away for playdates and when he is, I find time to focus on my little guy. When we go to the park or the beach, he becomes a very different little boy. He thrives. He is sweet. He is loving.


When he is at daycare, I have fun with my older son. I relish our talks and I’m so lucky we are close and he trusts me.


When we are all together and the little guy is screaming or throwing items in a restaurant or anywhere else, I try my hardest to stay calm and take him out. He doesn’t get desert. Yesterday, after multiple temper tantrums, I sent him to his daycare. I was trying to have a fun, family day. It didn’t work, so off he went. It’s a small daycare where he has 3 very good friends. Plus, he is an angel there. (His tyranny is only directed at me.) But since he was kicking and hitting me, he didn’t get to go out for ice cream with me and his big brother. Sounds a bit sad, but last week the little guy picked up a broom and tried to hit me over the head with it. NOT OKAY.

We will survive all of this. And I refuse to give up on this little guy. And somehow, I’m managing to stay calm, and to still focus on writing my book for an hour or two almost every day. This journey is a hard one, but it’s forcing me to become a better person. I’m finding that even when I’m at my limit, I can push through with kindness, while still being strong. It’s amazing to me that I am grateful for this life. Isn’t that bizarre? I am so grateful to be these boys mom and I will find a way to make it work. Right now, it’s taking some personal sacrifices, but I have to. And you know what? In between the crazy tantrums and the exhaustion, I have plenty of silly moments to be grateful for. Yesterday, after a lengthy time out, I picked up my little guy and went to the pool. While he made a ‘cake for mommy’ out of pool toys, he screamed: “I LOVE YOU!!”

And I thought, “Ok. We are getting there,” as I tickled him.

Here’s hoping the summer will be strewn with small moments of silliness and peace.

Finding Forgiveness In Parenting


I took this photo months ago. It made me think of light shining through in the midst of dark and uncertain times. I also thought of forgiveness. Sometimes it takes just a shift, even a small one, to let the light peek through. Once it does, more possibilities bubble up, even from a sea of darkness. The evening of this sunset, I was specifically thinking of people in my life that I needed to forgive. Not necessarily to bring them back into my life, but to let go.

Today, however, after having some crazy, intense moments with my kids, I realize that forgiveness needs to be extended to myself. I need to be as forgiving of myself for not being a perfect parent, as I am of others. Why is that so hard for me to do?

As a single parent, I’m destined to have my fair share of more bad days to come. That’s just life. Parenting young children is hard for anyone—and days like yesterday and today evolve like emotional hurricanes leaving me breathless, exhausted and in a shell-shocked state of self doubt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have to surrender to this life.  Weekends are tough. And it’s not because I don’t want to hang with my boys. It’s actually because I do—and I have high expectations that get dashed.  I am not in control of how my days will go.

And maybe I’m in this position because I’m trying too hard? Maybe I don’t have to let my oldest son do so many activities? Maybe I need to be tougher with both of them? Right now, it’s hard to figure it out because, honestly, I’m bone tired. But what parent of young kids isn’t?

When a child tantrums over and over again, it’s almost impossible to find a sense of peace or calm or reassurance that everything will be okay. For instance, yesterday my four-year-old hit me. Today, he spit on me when he didn’t get what he wanted and yelled “I hate you!” None of this makes sense. He’s a four-year-old now acting like a two-year-old. It was exhausting. And there’s no need to go into all the ugly details and analyze whether I chose the right consequences for his bad behaviors. (There were many more, including stabbing furniture, hitting big brother and throwing apples…sigh…) But trust me, I don’t need to dissect the situations any further. I’ve already done it numerous times in my head.

Of course, I punished him. No, I didn’t hit him—although I wanted to. But what stayed with me, like a poisoned stone in my gut, was guilt. I worried about everything from whether this poor child has ADD, or whether he just needs a father, or whether I’m tough enough, consistent enough, loving enough, etc. … It’s exhausting and I’ve been through enough already.

It’s time to let go of this self-critical voice in my head fueling guilt. I’ve been riddled with guilt my whole life for not doing everything perfectly. It doesn’t help that I’ve been a parenting editor and have read so many parenting theories and books. It seems to add to the continuous doubting voice in my head and ensures that I never give myself a break. When really bad behavior erupts, I start second guessing everything I do and this voice lays into me like a nagging family member.

My ex used to jokingly call me “Mary Poppins: Perfect in Every Way.” He’d say it in a silly voice when making fun of me while I was in the throws of creating the perfect party invitations or painting our son’s nursery … I threw myself into parenting my oldest son. I admit, my world did revolve around his every milestone for quite a while. Now, I’m just winging it and every day doesn’t work out the way I’d like. But I’ve been doing this solo gig for almost 4 years and I need to forgive myself for not always doing everything exactly right.  I don’t always respond immediately and firmly. Sometimes I yell.  But I consistently say I love you. I consistently say I’m sorry when I yell. I consistently keep trying. It’s okay that I can’t do it all.

I ran across this wonderful post “To Parents of Small Children, Let Me Be The One Who Says It Outloud” by Steve Wiens. I loved it. I feel it. And what it says to me, as a single mom, is that forgiveness is crucial.

So, today was a bad day. At times, I wanted to throw in the towel. But you know what? I never will.  And that is finally something to be proud of.

Doing Too Much For Your Kids?


Do you do too much for your kiddos? I know that I am guilty of this from time to time, but didn’t realize just how much I do that I shouldn’t, until I tried to stop this week. Let me explain. I read an interesting article from EmpoweringParents.com last week entitled “Why Fixing Things For Your Child Does Not Help”. (It’s a great article that I highly recommend.)

In the article Sara Bean, M.Ed. explains why doing even the smallest things for your children, such as picking up their clothes or toys on a regular basis, robs them of the ability to learn how to pick up after themselves. 

“In order for children to learn how to do hard things, you have to let them go through hard times. There is no way to truly master something without experiencing it,” Ms. Bean wrote.

She then outlines other traps well-intentioned parents often fall into, such as writing or typing up homework assignments.

Well, luckily, I’m not doing that just yet. But I decided that I’d no longer pick up the towels on the bathroom floor; clothes thrown in the corner; juice boxes; snack bags; various papers; toys and socks strewn across the den. The first day went well, but during the day, when my boys were in school, I had to keep reminding myself NOT to pick up their items. When I picked up my oldest (who is the worst offender) I had to point out everything left as it was thrown, and force him to pick up, throw away, put in the laundry bin, etc. Boy did he complain!

Four days later, after starting this new campaign, I look around me as I write and see a coat on the couch, a Reese’s wrapper on the floor, a Vitamin Water bottle on a chair, and toys strewn on the floor. It’s an endless endeavor to get kids to pick up after themselves. It’s clearly not an easy fix. My son literally has the knee-jerk reaction to throw things, leave things and not put away anything. But, I’m determined to break him. And, it may just be time to re-introduce the dreaded allowance.

In the meantime, I get to nag more and to point out the messes like a drill Sargeant— but hey, at least it’s good for my child, right?

Can anyone relate?

A Mother’s Legacy: Staying On The Brink

Mom and William, one week old, November 2001

“I want PIE!” Jamesy yells at me this morning. He has already climbed onto the second shelf of the pantry, which he knows he isn’t allowed to do.

“Well, I didn’t make the pie, and besides, that’s not a breakfast food, is it? Lets get down from there,” I reply calmly, trying to mask the tension that is rising like bile in my throat. I look at my angelic, chubby three-year-old with star-lit, midnight blue eyes and tousled blond hair. I know what is coming next—what has been happening in our house for months now.

‘NOOOO!!!!” he wails like a super sonic boom and then hurls a kitchen timer against the wall.

I take a deep breath and  pick up his squirming body. “Ok, time out buddy.”

His legs kick my calf. Hard. A zinger of pain flashes up to my kneecap and down to my swollen achilles’ heel. Why did I forget to put that damn boot back on? I think as I grimace with pain. Almost three weeks ago I tore a tendon in my left calf, so chasing after my three-year-old has now become an Olympic endeavor. I manage to strap him into his time-out chair—which is my second car seat. As I walk to pick up the now broken kitchen timer, he kicks his seat over, landing with a thud. His head is now on the floor, his feet raised above him in a sitting position. The crazy guy laughs, looks at me victoriously, and then starts screaming again.

“I HATE TIME OUT!!!” he screams.

William and I just shrug and sit down to eat our breakfast. We have gone through this scenario many times since we took the advice of Jamesy’s teacher who recommended that I place a car seat in my kitchen and strap him into it for a time out each time he throws things, yells, hits, climbs the pantry walls, bites, etc. Ignoring him, threatening with a consequence, taking away toys, and dare I admit, even a spanking, all don’t work on my little guy. Putting him in time out didn’t work before because he just refused to stay seated. Strapping him into time out is helping, believe it or not. It’s just taking an extraordinarily long time. I have a very stubborn three-year-old who hates to hear the word No or not be able to do what he wants to do. Like most I guess, but his older brother was never this ballsy or stubborn. Eventually, he stopped these shenanigans.  Plus, I didn’t have William and Jamesy close together in age. William is 10, James 3. I can’t imagine surviving life as a single mom with an insanely stubborn James and a brother only one or two years older. Seriously, with an ex in Europe and no family help, I might have ended up in Betty Ford or some mental facility.

Today, when I was taking James to school, I thought about my mom. You may be wondering what my son’s behavior, and how the scene I just described to you, has anything to do with a Mother’s Legacy. Well, a lot actually. My mother had four children and a husband who would work three-day shifts at the hospital. Back then, three-day-shifts were not frowned upon like they are today. She was virtually a single mom in Boston with my brother 3 and two sisters ages 2 and 1. They were all still in diapers!!

“Well, I just didn’t know any better,” my mom said to me 10 years ago when she visited me after I gave birth to William. “I mean, back then, you didn’t expect your husband to help you. You didn’t complain either. And I just thought it was fun,” she laughed. I clearly didn’t believe her last statement.

When she said this to me, I was in the throws of repeated sitz baths for a class 4 tear, (men reading this, DON’T ASK), sore nipples, engorged breasts verging on infection since I couldn’t get the milk to come in properly, and hormones raging to the point where at certain moments I literally wanted to die. Exhaustion, hormones, whatever it was, I realized that what I was feeling was akin to what clinical depression must feel like. Having three kids one right after another, and than four years later her oops child, (which I am), my mom must have always been on the brink of despair. But I don’t remember seeing her succumb to it, not over raising children anyway. Maybe she was just too busy.

Mom and William, three months.

Over the next two years after William’s birth, she graced me with her stories. But her stories about raising three babies were what inspired me most. She didn’t know why I was in shock, but clearly, she loves babies and has a higher threshold for stress, than I do. Her stories gave me strength, however. Luckily for me, once my breast milk came in with earnest and I could breast feed around the clock, my cloud of depression lifted. I listened to her stories and began to think I can do this.

“Every Sunday I called my mom and we’d talk about politics. I loved our Sunday calls,” my mom told me 10 years ago.  “Well, this one Sunday, I’ll never forget it. Your father was at the hospital and I looked around as I spoke with NiNi (her mother) and I saw your sister (and with her next description, I knew exactly which sister it was) climbing up the curtain rod! I started to go for her, but then I heard something and looked out back and your other sister was pushing down your brother from his bicycle. Well, I’m still on the phone, but as I go to your brother, I turn around and look back and I see your sister now putting a screw in her mouth!” Amazingly, the whole time she’s telling me this story, she is smiling. What lesson did she learn? Not to decorate, or put up curtains partially, and then take a phone call when you have three children. I, on the other hand, was completely horrified. I had my one and only baby suckling at my breast and began to think I will never, ever, have another child.

“Well, I laughed and laughed about that. Of course, I had to get the screw out of her mouth first!” my mom said. Over the years as her Alzheimer’s began to take hold, she repeated that story to me over and over again.

Mom and William, 2 years.

It was as if she knew that I’d need to remember it too. That I would need to pull it out of a file in the back of my mind to remind myself that this craziness is what it’s all about. We’re all pushed to the brink when raising children. But it’s how we handle it and carry through that matters.

Three years ago I was visiting my mother. She was still at home then, although we had assistants to help her. It was evening, and she had fallen asleep with her TV on. I went in to shut it off. She raised up and pointed to the hall light.

“I finally put a cover on it. Like it?” she asked me. I turned to look at the hall light and noticed a new sconce. “Oh. Wow. Yes, we finally have one.”

“I know, I never replaced the old one because I was so ashamed,” she said to me, clear as day.

When I asked her what she was talking about, she replied, “Well, one day, when you four were up to something. I can’t recall really, but one of your sisters was yelling and your brother was doing something, I don’t remember what, but I got so mad, I actually threw my shoe up the stairs and it hit the hall light. I never did replace it (the sconce) because I wanted to look at that ugly bulb to remember how stupid I was. I didn’t want to lose my temper like that ever again.”

I swallowed hard and held her hand. “It’s ok mom.”

“Oh, it’s silly. I should have known better. Don’t do that kind of thing, ok?”

The next morning, when I told her I enjoyed our talk she replied, “Oh? What talk? Didn’t you just get here?”

Well, call it Divine intervention, but I know we did have a talk and I’m so grateful—that even though she didn’t remember it—I always will. And I thought about her advice today after Jamesy threw his smoothie across the car and it landed with a SPLAT across the entire backseat. Sigh. I’m clearly on the brink too. But I’m going to be brave and stand on the edge and take a deep breath. I may have to dig in my heels and brace myself or a long stay. But my little guy will grow up eventually, right? And if I make it through with my sanity in check, just think about the stories I’ll be able to embarrass him with!