Joint Custody: Should I force my kids to go with their other parent even when they are crying and screaming?

Q: I'm a stepmom of two wonderful kids, age 9 and 12. Their mom has "episodes" because of her bipolar condition. She will yell and scream at them, and say ugly things about their Dad and me and other family members. When the episodes are over, she is a very loving person and just does not understand why the kids cannot or will not just forget what has happened. The kids are both at a point that they are afraid to go with her for her visits.

We do understand that she has the right to see the kids, but we are very worried about their emotional state if we physically force them. How far do we go without jeopardizing our own relationship with them because we are forcing them to see her? How physical do you suggest we get with the kids? Should we pick them up and force them into her car? She has already called the police when they would not get in immediately.

We are talking and trying to assure them that they are strong kids and they can handle anything with their mom, and that in time it will be better… but of course we don't know that for sure, and I don't want the kids to think that we are lying to them.

- concerned stepmom

A: First and foremost, let me compliment you on your compassionate insight into the situation. Your kids are very blessed that you understand their desires, their confusion, and their experience. Please don't ever underestimate the power of just one adult in their world who can validate and understand what they are going through.

natural birth control

Just read an article in our local weekly paper about the dilemma some families are facing as the economic conditions intensify: having to choose between buying food or birth control. Talk about a terrible double bind! How sad and ironic to decide that you must risk creating more mouths to feed in order to take care of the children you already have.

I dunno why every single high school health class isn't teaching this most basic and empowering health information: women are only fertile during a few days of their monthly cycles.

There are reliable and simple ways to assess your own fertility signals, and you can use the information to help you avoid pregnancy, even if your cycle is irregular. It also helps you know when you have the best chance of conceiving, if that's what you want.

Using it to prevent pregnancy does require abstinence during fertile days, and is therefore not as convenient or practical as, for example, an IUD, but it is free and available to every woman.

And although it does nothing to prevent STD's, and it's not 100% foolproof (no method is ...), basic fertility awareness education could greatly reduce the odds of an unplanned pregnancy. So I'm doing my part to spread the good word.

Here's a site I like with info about The Two Day Method:

I also recommend the book Your Fertility Signals by Merryl Winstein.

graphic goody

just heard about this today, and thought it was really neat:

You type in a bunch of words and this program turns them into colorful word clouds, which you can then print for free.

I'm thinking it could be a neat gift from parent to child -- a graphic representation of their strengths and wonderful qualities. Suitable for framing, even!

The most frequently used words show up the largest, so if, for example, I want the word KIND to show up big, I would list it more than once. I'm going to make one for my daughter right now.

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

Helping children deal with frightening memories

Q: My 6-year-old son has been recently traumatized by viewing a video clip of an extremely scary scene. My older daughter showed him this clip. My son is now extremely upset at night, can not sleep, covers his head with blankets, and can not be alone in any room of the house. He will not even go outside alone. He keeps asking when the images will go away in his head. This has been going on for 3 weeks now. I am worried about his mental health. Should I take him to a therapist?

Thank you,

A: Dad -

I'd better start with a major disclaimer here: I am not a therapist, and do not diagnose or dispense medical or psychological advice. If your gut tells you to take your son to a therapist, please do so.

That said, there are some things you can try at home first that might be helpful:

stroller or sling?

I'm not one to put a lot of stock in research or studies, because in my opinion there are truly too many variables to take into account and it's impossible to delineate a pure cause and effect relationship.

However, I do like to use studies as a trigger for personal contemplation and experimentation. Below is some interesting food for thought about forward facing strollers and their potential impact on language development.

Before I share the link and my thoughts on the stroller or sling question, let me preface it by saying I have a very sensitive nervous system. Certain kinds of lights and sounds, crowds, scary movies or stories -- stuff like that bothers me. So when my kids were little, I didn't use strollers. Something just felt weird to me about putting my little baby down at knee level, especially in crowds. Might have been pure projection on my part, since I wouldn't have liked being down there on my own facing the strange world by myself. In any case, it felt right as rain to carry them on my hip in a sling.

As newborns, they would lay down in the sling horizontally. It also felt weird to me to carry my little baby upright or forward facing, like their little heads just bounced around too much, and like they were somehow too exposed and unprotected. With them tucked in the sling, napping and nursing were a piece of cake, and I could get on with my business.

As they grew, they progressed to sitting on my hip. I absolutely loved being able to see what they were looking at, and I was constantly talking to them about all kinds of stuff. I preferred the sling to the backpack, because I liked seeing where their attention was focused, but at times, the backpack just made more sense, so I used that too.

I chalked all this up to just being a strange and quirky and sort of fringe-y type of person. Now there's this study which says that other folks felt the same way, even strongly enough to do some research on it.

I'm not saying strollers are bad! Of course all parents need to find strategies that work for us and our kids. I only share this article to perhaps support those of you who may feel a deep preference to carry your baby, and don't really know or understand why. Perhaps it may help you to clarify and honor your intuition. It may also provide those of you who find strollers to be your best option with some ways to consciously enrich that experience for your child.

Which reminds me ... there was a powerful book that supported and validated my intuition back when I was a new parent, and I still remember it fondly: The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. Here's the link to her site:

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Should I join Facebook or MySpace to monitor my teen?

I read an article recently suggesting that parents who did not have a Facebook or MySpace profile were missing the boat. It even went so far as to say that conscientious parents should be requiring their teens to "friend" them, which means they can have full access to each others' profiles, thus seeing all their conversations and pictures, as well as those of the other kids they communicate with.

My first response was to cringe. And then, since I try to have an open mind, I attempted to find a good reason to make myself do this. But I could not come up with anything.

So I ran it by a teenager I know who is wise well beyond her years. Her reaction? Shock and dismay that parents would feel the need to go to that extreme to find out what their teenagers were up to. Her suggestion? Just ask them.

Yep, it's that simple. Say to your teen, "Hey, I've been hearing about this Facebook thing lately. Will you show me what it's all about? Can I see your profile sometime?"

This simple request is powerful. It's casual, it's curious, and it lets your teen know that you are aware of their use of technology. It also gives them time to clean up anything they don't want you to see.

When they show you, don't read every single word or follow every link. You'll get the gist of it on the home page. It's okay to be curious, "What's the story behind that picture?" but don't go digging for trouble! Ask them to share their favorite things with you. Keep it light and playful. Ask if they can help you search for the profiles of some of your friends sometime since you don't have your own. Let them man the keyboard while you relax and enjoy the ride.

Teens want some basic privacy, just like we adults do. When I was a teenager, I would have felt totally violated if my mom listened in on my three hour phone conversations. And she, more than likely, would have been bored to death. Luckily, she had better things to do!

Today, Facebook and texting are the methods of choice for teen communication. "Friending" my daughter would be like picking up the phone extension in another room and eavesdropping. I'm just not willing to go that far. It feels like a violation of her privacy. I don't need or want to know every little detail about her social life. Ditto with reading her text messages, her diary, or her email. It's none of my business.

Additional food for thought from the teenager I consulted:

- It's very easy to create a profile under another name. If you force your kids to "friend" you, they can simply create another profile where they have their "real" conversations. Other teens will not communicate freely with yours when they know that you can read it. Duh! Teens who are determined to have private communications will always find a way.

- "If parents feel the need to spy on their teen, something has already gone wrong in their relationship."

- If you monitor and control your teens too tightly, you are giving them the message that you don't trust them. Be careful about this - sometimes it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some will decide that if they will 'do the time' anyway, they might as well 'commit the crime.'

- The natural consequence of demonstrating responsibility is additional freedom. Parents have to let go sometime! It's a wise parent that respects and acknowledges autonomy.

- Teenagers have plenty of opportunity when they are away from home, including while they are at school all day, to get into trouble. Microscopic monitoring does not teach them how or why to make healthy choices when no one is looking.

- A better intervention than monitoring, spying, and controlling is to educate your teens about potential consequences. For example, cut out articles or send them links to websites about teen drinking, teen pregnancy, etc. Some kids learn best from anecdotal stories, some prefer statistics. Be casual and offhand. Leave relevant books and articles on their desk without saying a word. Let them learn with dignity and privacy, rather than hammering your lesson in over dinner.

- Or ask their opinion about something you heard or a story you read in the paper -- a drinking and driving accident, an abduction, or an overdose. (Look what came out in the conversation when I asked her about this Facebook thing!)

- If you don't freak out, your teen will freely tell you almost everything you want to know. Freaking out means: prying for more information, yelling, crying, guilt-tripping, being disappointed in them, making accusations, jumping to conclusions, over-dramatizing, over-reacting, punishing, or making assumptions/generalizations.

- If you want your teenager to continue to share details of her life with you, don't judge, question, or criticize what she tells you!

- "Teens who have never been shown respect by their parents don't respect themselves." She drew this conclusion from watching her friends being parented from a young age, and seeing the choices they are making today. In her assessment, the parents who were most controlling and invasive simply drove their kids' risky behavior underground. Those are the girls who are sneaking out their bedroom windows at midnight to meet boys from Facebook.

- "If parents are willing to go to all the work of creating a profile so they can spy on their kids, why don't they instead put that time and effort into educating their kids about the potential consequences of risky behavior, and listen/support/encourage them as they navigate their way through these choices?"

I couldn't have said it better myself.

And as always, this is just my opinion. You may decide to get a profile and 'friend' your teen for reasons that make good sense to you. My goal is simply to present some additional information to consider as you make your choice carefully and conscientiously.

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