Dear Family Coach: My sister-in-law keeps her 1-year-old daughter on the strictest schedule. She has to put her down for a nap and down to bed at exactly the right time. She freaks out if a family gathering runs a bit late. It's so frustrating, and it ends up stressing us all out. How can we encourage her to lighten up? — Annoyed
Dear Annoyed: Before I answer your question, just a quick question for you: When the baby doesn't get to sleep at the right time and is then overtired and cranky the next day, are you going help out? And when the baby is up at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. because she's overtired or had a catnap in the car, are you going to be there to rock her to sleep? I don't think so.
I fully understand how annoying it must be to have to schedule around a baby, especially when it isn't your baby. But parenting a small child is exhausting. Parents depend on their kids sleeping so they can recharge their own batteries. Furthermore, when children don't get to sleep on time or get enough sleep, it can really affect behavior. A cranky sleepy child is no fun to be around.
It isn't your sister-in-law who needs to lighten up. It is you. Cut her a break. Even better would be for you to schedule family gatherings that are sensitive to the needs of young children. I can imagine your sister-in-law would feel supported and a great deal of empathy if you were to do that.
Dear Family Coach: When it comes to our kids' bedrooms, I think they should be able to do what they want for the most part, especially when it comes to posters on the walls. My wife would like to keep it a bit more sophisticated (framed pictures versus posters taped to walls). I feel it's their space and their sanctuary. They should do what they want with the room, as long as they keep it clean and put stuff away. What are your thoughts? — Postered
Dear Postered: I'm with you. Years ago, when I was looking at houses before a move, I visited one that must have had a teenager living there. The walls were painted black, and there were posters everywhere. While that would not be my personal cup of tea, I was incredibly impressed with the parents. They understood something about teens that unfortunately many do not.
Kids, especially teens, crave independence and the ability to express their style and proclivities. This is why so many kids experiment with their hair, clothing and piercings. A child's room should be kept to a minimal standard such that it isn't a fire hazard and the mess doesn't prevent the child from being prepared for school and activities. Beyond that, I recommend parents ease up a bit. Give your children some space to just be in their room and create a comfortable habitat. Your wife doesn't have to live in there. She gets the rest of the house.
Letting go of your children's rooms is the first step for your wife in the process of giving up control over their every move. When kids are young, parents are able to choose clothing and hairstyles. They often decide on their kids' friends, too. But as children get older, they want more say in their lives. When it's possible, give it to them and avoid the constant battle of wills that would normally ensue.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.