Watch out for this major parenting pitfall

Don't expect your offspring to serve as evidence of your intelligence, hard work, or value as a person.

Sooner or later, all kids will assert their autonomy. If your self-esteem is contingent upon your children in any way, or if you fail to acknowledge that your child is an independent being with his or her own preferences and path in life, the growing up process is likely to end up being painful for both of you.

If we need our children to be Mini-Me's or behave according to our standards all the time in order to feel like we are good/smart/worthy people ourselves, we have anchored our self-esteem on shifting sands. We may find ourselves using desperate measures -- threats, punishment, bribes, and guilt trips -- in an attempt to force our children to behave in ways that we think reflect well on us. It will be hard for us to allow them to make the mistakes they can learn so much from, or to explore new possibilities.

my beef with tough love and logical consequences

Huge disclaimer: I am feeling tender and sentimental today. This will affect what I write, for sure!

Okay, so here's what got me started on this. As I headed down to the kitchen for a bite to eat this morning, I noticed that my teenage daughter's bed was unmade. Downstairs I found a wadded up sweatshirt on the kitchen table, a half eaten muffin on the counter, yesterday's lunch box with a smashed sandwich still in it, and tennis shoes blocking the basement door.

A disaster area, right? Some parenting experts might say that I should make her clean up the mess the second she gets home, or make her pay me for cleaning up after her, or make her do other chores for me in return. They might say I need to make a chore chart for her, or ground her until she starts taking responsibility for her things, or call a family meeting and set clear expectations for morning routines.

You know what I did instead? I just smiled, and cleaned it all up. It was obvious she had overslept this morning. If my best friend or husband overslept, I would not punish them or call them irresponsible. I would help them. And it would feel wonderful.

My child is stealing things ...

Two similar requests for advice came in recently:

Q: My teenage daughter has occasionally "borrowed" secretly from her older sister for the past 10 years. When confronted and forced to return the items, she is sheepish and never offers an explanation. Her sister gets quite angry and wants me and her mother to "do something." Any suggestions?

Q: I just found out that my daughter and some friends had been implicated in several thefts from classrooms at her elementary school. She admitted taking things, but can't seem to explain why she did it. I've talked to her for hours, taken away privileges, and imposed consequences. What else should I do to make sure this never happens again?

A: I volunteer for our local Restorative Justice (RJ) program, and I find several of the RJ principles to be very useful in parenting. More likely than not I have distorted these concepts for my own purposes by now, so you may want to google Restorative Justice to learn about them in their purest form ...

a free resource for parents of teens

My colleague Sue Blaney , a highly respected source of grounded and practical information for parents of teenagers, has just released a new free e-book: Secrets to Success in Parenting Your Teen.

I've facilitated parenting groups based on her book Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride and recommend it regularly in my parenting consultations.

It's perfect for book discussion groups, and even includes tips and questions for those who want to use it that way. No special facilitation skills are necessary. You can order the book here:

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