The battle over sports practice

Q: It's a screaming match every time I ask my 8 year old son to get ready for wrestling practice. His dad is passionate about wrestling, and wants our boys to wrestle. But getting him to go to practice is driving me crazy. I told him he needs to go to practice to stay active, but he doesn't have to compete in tournaments. That was ok for a few weeks, but now he doesn't even want to do that. I don't know if this is a power struggle, if he truly hates it, if I should give in or be persistent. All I know is I am so tired of fighting him before every practice. Any advice is very welcome.

A: This is a terrific question, and I know many other parents will relate to your dilemma. Thanks for submitting it.

It's only natural, and even a very good sign, that you feel confused about what to do right now. There's still some information that needs to be gathered. Good for you for not jumping to premature conclusions!

Will this movie be too much for my child?

This site can help you make an educated guess about whether a movie might be too disturbing for your kids or not:

They rate movies using "three objective ratings for SEX/NUDITY, VIOLENCE/GORE & PROFANITY on a scale of 0 to 10. We also explain in detail why a film rates high or low in a specific category, and we include instances of SUBSTANCE USE, a list of DISCUSSION TOPICS that may elicit questions from kids and MESSAGES the film conveys."

this makes so much more sense than G or PG ratings based on age. since some kids are more sensitive and susceptible than others, these ratings let parents make better-informed decisions.

this would have been a real boon to have around when my kids were younger. might have spared me several sleepless nights of post-nightmare comforting.

It, uhhh, might even have been helpful earlier than that. I am still anxious about showering in hotel rooms (thank you Psycho) and afraid to swim in the ocean (Jaws). And don't even get me started on The Birds ...

I need this site for myself!

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

book review: Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

The good folks over at asked me to submit a review of my favorite children's book. They wanted an audio file, so I wrote up this script and recorded it on their voice input line. Figured I might as well share it with you, too ...

Somebody Loves you, Mr. Hatch
Written by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Paul Yalowitz
It's a picture book, so probably targeted at age 3-7 yrs or so, but the story is timeless and ageless. It's still on my bookshelf even though my kids are now teenagers because I love to read it myself ...

This book begins with bland but endearing illustrations that depict the boring and predictable life of Mr. Hatch, a loner who works in a shoelace factory. He is tall and thin, and does not smile. Day after day he lives the same monotonous routine. He has no friends at all. "He keeps to himself." That is what everyone said about Mr. Hatch.

Then one day, a package is delivered to his door. Inside is a huge heart-shaped box full of chocolates, and a note that says somebody loves you. He is so surprised and intrigued and flattered that he does something he's never done before -- he puts on some after shave and goes for a walk. "Maybe," he thinks, "I will meet the person who sent me the candy."

He proceeds to interact cheerfully with the all the people he used to ignore. He helps the local shopkeepers, bakes brownies for the neighbor kids, and makes friends. I love this part of the story -- nothing in the town has changed, but because he changed his thinking, his experience of life changes, too. Each new person he meets could be his Secret Admirer, so he treats everyone as if they are, just in case. And they treat him well in return!

Until that fateful day when the mail carrier tells him there's been a mistake. The package was not addressed to him. The illustrations become grey again as he turns away from the colorful and connected life he'd been living, and becomes a lonely loner again.

But when his new friends get wind of what happened, they cook up a surprise that brings a tear to my eye every time I read it. I don't want to give away the happy ending, so read it for yourself and see. I know you'll be glad you did.

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli

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Worried about teenage drinking

Q: My 16 year old son goes out and drinks too much with his friends. He's a good student, star athlete, and a belligerent and nasty drunk. I'm afraid he may be depressed. We have a good relationship, and I have told him my concerns, but he dismisses me, saying, "Everyone gets drunk, Mom. Back off." What can I do?

A: Sounds like you've been very conscientious about expressing your concerns to him, and so far, he's responded with resistance, defensiveness, and counter-attack. I love that you phrased it "my concerns" rather than "his problem." This tells me you are already aware of the importance of using I-messages and taking personal responsibility in your communication -- and probably explains why you still have a good relationship with him. Good for you!

in the eyes of the beholder

I thought this comment in response to my post about children not wanting to spend time with their non-custodial parent warranted an entirely new post. I have edited it for brevity and clarity:

[to the commenter: please accept my apology for the delay. the email notification of your comment must have gotten lost in cyberspace, and I just stumbled upon this in the 'awaiting moderation' file.]

I am the "current squeeze" in this situation. She's right in saying these are two amazing girls. And I couldn't agree more with the father who also posted his comment. Karen, I appreciated your resistence to jumping on the "ain't he awful bandwagon" as I'm sure you know there are always two sides to every story.

Yes ... and more than just two sides to every story! I believe there are as many perspectives as there are perceivers.

The comment ends with:
I'm thankful to have them all in my life and if I have to deal with her for the next 10 years then so-be-it... It's worth it to me to have fun and share time with them when we are all together. I can separate the reality of the situation and how she likes to present it to others.

Quantum physics tells us that it's impossible to observe anything without affecting it, and therefore there is no objective 'reality' out there that some of us have access to and others are deluded about. In a very literal way, we are each living in our own little bubbles, perceiving and interpreting everything through our own filters of beliefs and experiences.

We tend to prefer the company of those with bubbles that are similar to ours. Who doesn't love being agreed with? I sure do! However, most of the time, The Ex lives in a VERY different kind of bubble. (Which is probably at least part of the reason why we chose to get divorced in the first place, right?) And in order to coparent the children we created together, we gotta deal with The Ex and his or her bubble for many more years.

If we can acknowledge that each of us will see things differently, we can let go of the need to convince each other that one is right and the other is wrong. This leaves us with more energy to invest in deciding what to do given that we don't see eye to eye. Productive solutions can indeed be generated from a platform of 'agreeing to disagree'. I see it all the time.

In fact, I could take this even a little farther, and say that productive solutions often cannot be generated until we agree to disagree! It's sort of job one. Which feels better: "We see this differently, but I think we can still find a course of action that will satisfy both of us," or, "I won't budge until you agree that I'm right!"

When people write to me, they are sharing their perspective. I respond to that, realizing that someone else involved in the situation may, of course, have a much different take on it.

In joint custody situations, sometimes the custodial parent is not supportive of a healthy relationship with the other parent. Sometimes they still feel hurt, angry, or guilty. Sometimes, a stressed and frazzled mom worries that her children might love their new stepmom more than her. Some mothers grieve that another woman is spending the time with her children that she wishes she could have. And sometimes not.

But emotional reactions don't stop when the divorce is over, and they can have a powerful influence on perception. Custodial parents may overdramatize the children's reactions, or unconsciously encourage whining and complaining by pouring on the attention and sympathy. Sometimes, they project their own issues with the other parent onto the child, and have a hard time allowing the child's relationship with the other parent to be separate from their own. It happens. Joint custody is a challenging situation, and often brings out the worst in people before it brings out the best.

And that's why it's so important that we keep our attention firmly anchored on being the best parent we can be, and not get caught up in "ain't he awful-izing." No matter which side of the situation you are on, you can listen to your children's perceptions, empathize without egging them on or adding drama, and then get back to having fun together.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit

Help, My Teenager Insists on Wearing Only Designer Clothes!

Q: My 16 year old daughter wants to wear designer jeans that cost $100. We live on a very tight budget, and can barely afford to buy clothes at Walmart. When I tell her I can't buy the expensive jeans, she gets angry and upset and says that these are the only jeans that fit and make her "look good and not fat." When I asked her if there was anywhere else we could shop that wasn't so expensive, she just yelled, "No, Dad! Just stop talking about it!" She always thinks I am mad, or that I want her to be mad at me, when I don't -- I just want to be able to talk to her. I always get that attitude every single time, even though I talk very calmly and never get mad at her. Please help.

A: Great idea to look for somewhere that she can get clothes that she likes at prices that won't break the budget! That was one terrific option.

season of sharing

This info came to me a little too late for this holiday season, but it's timeless, so it'll wait til next year.

To encourage philanthropy and take the 'season of giving' to the next level, I heard about some folks who gifted the youngsters in their family with two checks -- one made out to the child, and the other, a share-check, made out for $25 with the pay to the order of line left blank.

The intention is that the child makes the check out to a charity or deserving recipient of his or her choice. Isn't that beautiful? Wouldn't it be fun to spend time with a child talking about whatever cause is near and dear to her heart, and helping her find a related charity to donate to? The possibilities are infinite. Gives me goose bumps.

The share-check is a wonderful way to multiply the joy of the holiday season by sharing the pleasure of giving together. The amount doesn't really matter. When times are tough, it's more important than ever to give a child the power and opportunity to contribute. Even $5 can make a difference.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit