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.

We all know parents who have gone to great lengths to either mold their children in their own image or give them the opportunities they didn't have when they were kids. I say: Let's just skip the middleman and mold ourselves. It's never too late to become who we always wanted to be. When we take responsibility for our own lives -- for maximizing our potential, for living our own dreams -- we set a powerful example for our children. And we free them to take charge of their own destiny by pursing their own happiness.

Like sports a lot? Great! Go to the rec center with your buddies. Don't assume that the activities that bring you joy are also fun for your child. Don't volunteer to coach youth soccer unless your son or daughter asks you to. And please don't holler at your kids from the sidelines or coach Little Junior all the way home in the car.

Be careful not to make your love and acceptance of your child conditional -- don't withhold your affection or approval in an attempt to motivate athletic or academic achievement. Our children are wired to build their lives on a deep and abiding foundation of parental love and approval. If we don't provide that for them automatically, they must use precious energy to earn it from us, and don't have as many resources left over to build a skyscraper. Or they end up becoming whatever it takes to earn our approval rather than expressing their true selves.

Base your self-worth on your own behavior, not your child's. Even better, if you can swing it, is to see yourself as valuable simply because you exist, or God created you, or whatever other cool unconditional gig works for you.

In any case, make something of your own life, and let your child do the same. Give freely of your love and approval, with no conditions, and you will give your child the kind of foundation that can support a skyscraper of a life.

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

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.

Besides, no one else looking at the scene could interpret the gifts in it. I knew that the half-eaten muffin was left there for me. She's seen me eat her leftovers all her life, and she knew I would probably enjoy those final three bites of our last chocolate muffin. She left the tennis shoes by the door to remind me that she did not have practice this afternoon.

I took great pleasure in making her bed for her, because I know she loves coming home to a neat room. While I was in there, I noticed her laundry piling up. I know she hates doing laundry, so I grabbed it and added it to my own to take care of today. In just a few short years, she will no longer live here with me, and my house will be as neat as I want it to be. Also very predictable, and very quiet. I bet I will look back fondly on these little messes then.

Please don't let any parenting expert, including me if I ever try, tell you that your kids will turn out rotten if you are kind to them or cut them some slack or give them the benefit of the doubt. We all need a helping hand sometimes. Part of loving someone is doing nice things for them. It's okay to extend that same kindness to our children. Never, of course, to the point of resentment! But it's fine to be generous when you can give freely and graciously.

If your child forgets her lunch, you won't be rewarding irresponsibility if you drop it off for her on your way to work. You'll be teaching her by example that no one does everything perfectly all the time, and that people who love each other help each other when they can. I'm okay with those lessons. Very okay with them.

ps: if I found a mess like that in my kitchen every morning, I still wouldn't feel the need to resort to tough love or logical consequences. Instead, I'd talk with her about why I want the kitchen cleaner, listen to what she wants for the kitchen and her morning, and we'd come up with a new plan to experiment with that takes both of our desires and abilities into account. Collaboration can be a very effective replacement for consequences.

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

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