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Single Parenting, Part 4, by James Windell

Discipline and the Single Mom

There are challenges to be sure in being a single mom. But certainly one of those challenges is discipline.

Perhaps all parents would agree that co-parenting is the ideal because it’s great when your co-parent can step in sometimes and take over. There are times when everyone one of us parents may be overwhelmed by trying to cope with an issue that we’re not handling very well. When those issues arise, it’s wonderful to have a spouse or co-parent step in and say, “I’ll handle this.”

But when you’re a single parent, you’re on your own. There isn’t that other parent to come in as the relief ace. Without a father available, you’re going to have to deal with any problem all by yourself. But, that’s tough, although certainly not impossible. Obviously, lots of mothers have done a wonderful job parenting after the loss of a husband. Here, though, are some useful tips for being the sole parent and disciplinarian:

1.   Trust your instincts. If you have fairly good instincts as a parent, and especially if you were raised by competent parents, then trust that your instincts as a parent are fairly sound.

2.   Be consistent. It’s a cliché, perhaps, to say that as a parent one of the best things you can do is be consistent. But it is a valuable tool in your parenting arsenal.

3.   Set limits. One of the things you can’t do as a single mom is to try to make life easy because your child doesn’t have a father. Just the opposite is true. It’s not your job to make life easy; it is to make sure your child grows up with the best skills to be a successful adult. One of those skills is to develop self-control. In order to help your child develop self-control, you have to set limits and be firm and consistent with those limits.

4.   Monitor your child closely. I have always loved the title of a parenting book written many years ago. The title was: “Hold Them Very Close, Then Let them Go.” That to me epitomizes the task of a parent. Supervise and monitor children very closely in the early years, but as they get older and show they are using good self-control and judgment then you can loosen the reins a bit.

5.   Be authoritative. Things go wrong when parents are either too lax or too harsh. The better course is to be an authoritative parent. Be firm, be strong, but don’t be harsh, rigid, or overly controlling. There’s an art to being an authoritative parent and it’s important to strive for this.

6.   Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Part of being authoritative is to make decisions and stand by them. But in doing so, you are going to make mistakes; all parents do. Admit your mistakes when they happen and move on.

7.   Keep in mind that discipline is about a whole range of options, not just about punishment. The best parents don’t think first about how they can punish when a behavior problem occurs. Instead, they think about teaching and bringing about change. Typically, children don’t learn best from punishment; they learn from being taught. If you can think of yourself as a teacher, instead of a disciplinarian, you will be an excellent mom.

8.   Finally, maintain a sense of humor. You can take the job of parenting seriously, but don’t yourself too seriously.  Parenting can be fun and it’s fascinating to watch your child grow and develop into a wonderful personality. Children often have a terrific sense of humor. Nurture this sense of humor and you can both share lots of laugh while you’re guiding them toward adulthood.

Single Parenting, Part 3, by James Windell

How Should You Help Kids Grieve the Loss of Their Father?

How do children grieve? And, if their father has died, how do you best help them grieve successfully?

These are not easy questions, but they are critical concerns when the family has experienced the loss of the father and the husband. However, to answer these questions it is important to keep in mind what we have learned about adults. One of the most important things we have learned is that grief is a very individual process.

Every adult has their own way of handling the grief and mourning following the death of a spouse. For some it is something they must do on their own; for others, though, they can’t be alone and must be around others. Some find it too painful to be around old friends – particularly couple friends. Some widows have told us they absolutely needed the support and comfort of a group; others found a support group to be a hotbed of painful emotions.

But what do children need? And is there a best way of helping them deal with their grief?

For some children, the death of a father is their first encounter not only with death but with the experience of trying to cope with a major loss. In a sense, then, losing a father is their rite of passage into adulthood. However, it is a major disruption in a child’s world; a disruption that costs them dearly. Having their world turned upside down by the death of a father results in the loss of stability, and the sudden – albeit temporary – disappearance of a predictable life.

And this suggests the first thing a mother has to do as a single parent – help to bring about stability and predictability while returning the routines that bring comfort and security to children.

Of course, this is not easy to do since a single mother is going to be doing her own grieving and dealing with her own loss. But as many widows told us, their first priority after the death of their husband was their children.

Martha, whose husband of 24 years died of leukemia, leaving her with four children, said that she felt she had to “keep it together for my family.” She said her major concern was her children and helping them to survive after their father died. But she said it was always her goal to never let them see her feeling sad or unhappy. She explained that she wanted to be strong and to show them that “You can survive after the death of someone very close to you.”

But children need to express their grief. And other widows we interviewed said they believed it was important for their children to see them grieve. “I didn’t want my children to think they couldn’t show their grief,” is the way some of them put it. To them, the expression of emotions would be healthy and helpful as they made their way through the grieving process.

For these widows who made no attempt to hide their grief, they wanted their children to understand that grief and mourning was a normal process and their children always had permission to grieve in their own way.

Children often show grief through changes in behavior. They may be sad, but they might also regress to an earlier stage of development. That is, some children might go back to sucking their thumb, wetting the bed, or having temper tantrums. It is therefore important newly-widowed women raising children be aware that regressed behavior is normal. And to help children deal with their loss, they must be given permission and encouragement to show their feelings.

Although they may display those feelings in various ways, it is essential to help them talk about how they feel and how the loss has affected them. In general, as a mother you must recognize the importance of emotional expression and don’t shut off any of their attempts to talk about their feelings.

A final thought: Don’t be surprised to find that young children may be better able to be honest and open about death than you are. Often children are more open about emotions because they haven’t internalized all of the social taboos and prohibitions about what you are and are not supposed to talk about in front of others. But this can be a blessing. It may help you as the grieving mother and widow to deal with your own emotions – while it helps your children to express their own deep hurt.

Single Parenting, Part 2, by James Windell

Help Boys Have an Accurate Picture of their Father-

When a mother attempts to parent alone there is often a serious effort to be both mom and dad to make up for the loss of a father. But, no matter how competent a mother is, she cannot really be a father or truly take the place of a father. Especially for a little boy.

This is what Theresa discovered with her five-year-old son Jonathan. His father and Theresa’s husband died when Jonathan was just one year old. In effect, he had never really known his father.

“Jonathan for a couple of years  has been asking where his father is and why he doesn’t live with us,” she said. “I try to give him information that I think he can handle about his father being dead. But I have found that when he is talking with his friends or his cousins that he makes references to grandiose and untrue exploits of his father.”

For instance, Theresa explained, he will say that his father lives in Mexico or that he was an airplane pilot or that his father taught him how to do a particular thing. “Sometimes I point out to him that he is pretending and that he should try not to make up fantastic stories about his father,” Theresa said. “But this has been going on for several months and I wonder if it reflects a bigger problem and not just a phase he is going through.”

Parents like Theresa certainly understand that children need a fairly well-defined sense of who they are and who their parents are in order to feel good about themselves. When one parent – such as a father in Jonathan’s case – has died, the child may begin to try to understand and cope with that loss. Eventually, how they cope with it will have an impact on how they feel about themselves, their view of adults, and the patterns that get established later in life. How the mother handles this, then, is very important.

Raising a competent, emotionally healthy child in this circumstance means not only handling the absence of the father, but also being aware of the identification process and the need for a boy to model himself after his father.

A mother must realize that a young boy will want to be “like daddy” and this will be reflected in his fantasizing and pretending about who his father is and the special qualities he possesses. A boy will want to be just like his daddy – to be strong, handsome, or to live in an exotic place, such as Mexico. When Daddy is not available, or the child doesn’t know enough about him, then he must make up things about his father.

One way for a mother to help her son during the early phases of the identification and modeling phase of development is to give her son as much accurate information as possible about his father’s positive qualities and traits.

Here are some suggestions for helping a son get to “know” his father:

■ Give positive, but realistic and objective information about his daddy when it is requested.
■ Do not discourage his fantasies or his efforts to compensate – unless you have something better to put in its place.
■ Talk to him frequently about his feelings about his father.
■ Always be truthful and open about the facts and causes of his father’s death. But remember that children younger than six or seven cannot really understand the full meaning of death, especially the finality of death.
■ Remember and talk about his father in detail. Although this may be painful for you, it will likely help both of you in the long run if you can give a more complete picture of who his father was.
■ Share photos and videos (if you have them) of his father. Give him photos he can have in his room. If you can put together what might be called a memory book this can be very informative to show your son what kind of a man his father was. A memory book might include not only photos but other memorabilia that suggests details of his life. That kind of scrapbook could also include things his daddy wrote or articles written about him, cards he sent, business cards, covers of CDs he liked, or tickets to events he enjoyed (such as sporting events or theater performances).


The Huffington Post Article

Feed America With ABC’s Dr. Besser’s Tweet-a-Thon-

Look around you and chances are you will see someone using a cellphone, tablet, or computer. There is also a good chance that this person is using social media. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, is the major foundation of the smart phone and internet era. It has changed the way people communicate, and transformed the manner in which people obtain and understand information. People use social media not only as a portal to view their relative’s family snapshots, but also rely on it for breaking news, editorials, and health living tips.

Psychologist and author James Windell says, “Social media is important because it is the quickest and most powerful way to reach many people and establish your brand. Twitter has something like 95 million users every day. Because of the extensive reach of the media, you can get your message out to far more people than you ever can through the traditional media.”

Perhaps, no one appreciates social media power and value more than ABC News medical reporter and tweet chat director Liz Neporent. She considers Twitter her “passion”, and has gone so far as to contact a Tufts University Professor of Social Media Lisa Gualtieri to help her medical team at ABC News analyze and improve the methods in which ABC is using social media.

ABC Chief Health and Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser is an active participant in social media and writes his own tweets. “When I get on the train each day I check Twitter first, then Facebook”. For the past two years, Dr. Besser has facilitated live ABC News Health tweet chats. These Twitter chats are organized by the use of “T”s to introduce topics during the chat and summarize each topic. Invited guests are carefully selected to ensure not only that the chats retain a high standard of credibility but also that it remains an open non-judgmental chat. For example, during a recent chat about domestic violence, Dr. Besser carefully chose which comments to re-tweet. “We wanted to create a place for women to share their stories. That’s powerful when you hear from these women.”


Dr. Besser also understands the impact and reach of these ABC News Health tweet chats, and uses it as a platform to address a variety of topics that impact health and well- being. On average about 20 million people are exposed to the topics via his weekly Twitter chats. These topics include autism, rare tropical diseases, breast cancer, orphan diseases, and colon cancer. Katie Couric, special correspondent for ABC News and anchor for ABC daytime show, ‘Katie’, was an active participant in the colon cancer chat bringing awareness to the disease that her late husband battled, and also dispelling myths related to colon cancer. Another tweet chat about meditation included Goldie Hawn as a guest. Dr. Besser explains, “We were able to talk about the health benefits of mediation and yoga.”

About three months ago, during a walk, Neporent hatched the idea of a Tweet-a-Thon to raise money for the non-profit organization Feed America. She wanted to increase awareness about those individuals who face food insecurity as well as bring in much needed funds for local food banks. Neporent explains, “As a group at ABC we crafted the idea of a Tweet-a-Thon, and the idea caught fire immediately. The medical team at ABC really understands social media and how it impacts lives.”

Immediately, Dr. Besser welcomed the idea of raising money for Feed America. He says, “Our twitter chat, #abcDrBchat, is a great way to share information about hunger. Last year alone, 49 million people in the United States lived in a food insecure household, meaning they don’t know when or where their next meal will come from. We will explore many of the myths and misconceptions about hunger in America. While doing so, we will raise money for America’s food banks. For every tweet that gets tweeted out during the hour-long ABC Health tweet chat, Disney/ ABC will donate $1.00 to Feeding America — up to $10,000. What a wonderful lead in to our season of Thanksgiving.”

The Tweet-a-Thon takes place on Tuesday, November 19th from 1-2 p.m. ET. To participate go to Twitter and search for the hashtag #abcDRBchat. For more information on how to participate, check out this video here.

To learn more about Feed America you can click here.

To follow Dr. Richard Besser on Twitter — @DrRichardBesser and here @abcDRBchat

You can look inside about his book, TELL ME THE TRUTH, DOCTORhere.

For an inside look into the Tropical Disease Twitter chat visit here and the Autism Twitter chat here.

To learn more about food insecurity go here.

Single Parenting by James Windell

I’m currently writing a book for widows to help them better cope with the changes that come about after a woman loses her husband. My co-author is a woman who lost her husband to a rare form of adrenal cancer. Many of the dozens of women we have interviewed also had husbands who died of some form of cancer.

To many of us adults it seems that cancer is an epidemic which strikes with amazing frequency. The American Cancer Society indicates that half of all men and one-third of all women in this country will develop cancer during their lifetimes. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, cancer is the second leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. – just behind heart attacks.

This means that every family will be touched by an illness or death of someone due to cancer. As we have discovered in interviewing widows, it also means that children are exposed to the “C word,” and if adults are frightened by cancer imagine what it must be like for children when they hear that a parent or family member has cancer.

How do you explain to a child that a loved one has cancer?

As with so many other situations in life to which kids are exposed, the more information they have the better they will cope. Therefore, as much as you would like to shield your child from the pain and suffering of a parent or another family member, trying to ignore or avoid using the C word is not likely to really help them in the long run. If you avoid talking to a child about the cause of the person’s illness, you can be sure that they will rely on their imagination and fantasy to try to understand cancer. That could well be worse for them because of the possibilities of false concepts or ideas.

For instance, I was talking to a recent widow who said she finally told her young children that their father had cancer, but while it was helpful to know why he was in the hospital and what kind of treatment he was receiving they were convinced he was recovering and would be home soon. They talked frequently about their daddy coming home and being able to do things with them just like he did before he got sick. When she was assured by the doctors that her husband’s cancer was untreatable and would be fatal, it broke her heart to have to tell them the sad news.

“I didn’t want to destroy their faith and optimism,” this mother said, “but I couldn’t let them go on believing their daddy would recover and be home again.”

To prevent children having misconceptions, the best approach is to tell them about the illness and do this in a simple, straightforward way.

For a younger child, it can be as simple as saying, “You father is sick and has to go to the hospital. He will have some strong medicine, but we are pretty sure he will be able to come home and you can see him then.”

For an older child, the explanation can be more detailed: “Your father is sick with an illness called cancer. That means that he will have to have an operation to get rid of the cancer. After that he will have treatment with very strong medicine, but we think he will be just fine and will be coming home after that.”

As children get older, they can be provided with more medical and scientific information about the exact nature of the cancer. Younger children don’t need such detailed information; more often they are in much greater need of reassurance.

One way to provide such reassurance is to let them know they did nothing to cause the illness, particularly if the person with cancer is a parent or sibling. You can say, “No one knows what caused your mother to have this kind of cancer, but we do know that people can’t make it happen. Also, people don’t do anything bad for it to happen to them.”

There will be many questions that a child will have when a family member develops cancer. It is always better to answer questions as honestly and as openly as possible. It has been found in research studies with families that when there is open communication children experience much less distress.

The Moment I Knew

When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.

It’s October and pitch black outside. The birds are not even awake, and I’m rumbling through my purse, going to turn on the car, to make sure the seat warmer on the passenger side is on because my husband’s frail and skinny body gets cold easily. I’m going through a mental checklist: grab snacks, bottle of water, cash. I go back into the kitchen. My husband Roy is up and ready. I see the clothes are loose fitting, kind of hanging on him, but he still looks healthy in so many ways. I grab his favorite jacket, and we walk downstairs to the car. He mumbles, “Grateful I can still walk short distances like this.” I ignore it. I’m more focused on driving to Ann Arbor……

Read full article on Huffington Post

University of Michigan Cancer Center

Part 1

In 2007, my late husband was diagnosed at the University of Michigan Cancer Center with an ultra- rare form of cancer: adrenal. There is a one in a million chance that someone will be diagnosed with this form of cancer and unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer.  Approximately eight weeks after his first visit to his primary care physician (not associated with the University of Michigan) he died. At the time I was 33, and we had no children together.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone”, and I couldn’t agree more. While reading this blog about my story will not resolve your problems, there is comfort in knowing that others have traveled the same path. As part of my research for my upcoming book, my co- author, psychologist James Windell and I interviewed dozens of widows. I also read many books about grief. What I have learned, to my surprise is that each widow’s journey through grief is unique.  Many widows speak about the intense loneliness (regardless if they live with children) and the cold sharp emotional pain. Death does damage. However, the pain will not always be as intense.

During the first year after my husband’s death, I found that the last thing I wanted to do was reach out to others. This was before text messaging and I wasn’t a part of Facebook; however, I had no desire to email or call someone.    Most of my friends were married with their own families.  Few people know what to say to a young widow. However, I found that when I did email or reach out that I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt. If for only brief moments, during a meal, I was distracted. There were a handful of awkward moments when a friend didn’t know what to say, but I went with the silence. I learned that most people are very kind and want to support you. However, they don’t know where to begin.

I know that you think others should call and stop by, but it is difficult. Time and again, those near and dear to me would say, “I just didn’t know what to do for you….. how to help you”.  Eventually, I figured out that I needed to reach out and it helped. Others began to open up when they saw that I didn’t want to be alone. They extended invitations for coffee, dinner, weekend trips.  Their kindness mattered to me.

Whether you are reading this as a widow or your loved one just experienced a loss, I encourage you to reach out.  Shortly after my husband died, a dear friend, who lived several miles away, each morning would email me either a heartfelt ‘hello’ or a beautiful quote. I saved all of those emails. This quote  from Frederick Buechner, still remains with me today, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid”.

Excerpt From Book

The Moment I Knew-

When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.

It’s October and pitch black outside. The birds are not even awake, and I’m rumbling through my purse, going to turn on the car, to make sure the seat warmer on the passenger side is on because my husband’s frail and skinny body gets cold easily. I’m going through a mental checklist: grab snacks, bottle of water, cash. I go back into the kitchen. My husband Roy is up and ready. I see the clothes are loose fitting, kind of hanging on him, but he still looks healthy in so many ways. I grab his favorite jacket, and we walk downstairs to the car. He mumbles, “Grateful I can still walk short distances like this.” I ignore it. I’m more focused on driving to Ann Arbor.

At this time of the morning, there is no traffic. During the car ride, we make small talk. I pull into the University of Michigan Cancer Center parking lot. I remark that I’ve never seen it so empty. We don’t have a handicap sticker yet because the cancer diagnosis happened about 3 weeks ago, and we’re still in crisis mode. I park in the closest non-handicap parking spot. Getting out of the car, I notice a cluster of wheelchairs together, like you’d find a bunch of shopping carts all together at the grocery store parking lot. I try to find the best one. I realize they’re all in the same condition, and I push it over. Like it is an old habit, we do the transfer from car to wheelchair.

We wonder aloud if we can get into the building this early. No one seems to be around, but we enter. As I push the elevator arrow button, a woman walks towards us, with her husband. He is pushing a wheelchair with an IV station (also on wheels) and a very young bald male child is sitting in it, no hospital gown, reading a book. I notice his backpack is securely fastened to the back of the wheelchair. I don’t want to stare, even if we weren’t in the Cancer Center, I know I shouldn’t give them a second look. I’m not sure where to look. I catch the mom’s eyes, and she gives me a glance of understanding. The elevator doors open. I’m uncomfortable so I look away at the dad who’s been tasked with managing the IV and pushing his son’s wheelchair into the elevator. I tell my husband, “we’ll wait.” They overhear me and say, “No, there’s plenty of room.” The mother extends her arm to make sure the doors stay open. Now the five of us ride in this elevator. Silence. We all exit, and I see them wander off in another direction. Now, I’m actually staring because their backs are to me. I wonder, “what type of cancer does this child have, is it treatable, how long have they been coming to the cancer center, what grade is he in?”

I feel my chest slightly tighten with a lump in my throat. I tell Roy, I need to use the bathroom. I push his wheelchair off to the side. I can’t get into the bathroom stall fast enough. My heart is racing, and there are tears coming down my face. I’m crying for this family, for this child, complete strangers and yet, it also is giving me permission to cry for Roy and myself. I try the deep breathing. I panic, wondering how long I’ve been in this stall. I go to the sink, and begin to assess the damage. “Will he be able to tell I’m crying?” I don’t recognize this face staring back at me. Then I look at my hair; it’s a rat’s nest. I wonder, “did I forget to brush it?” I tell myself, “Pull it together. No one is looking at your hair.”

I walk out of the bathroom, trying not to make eye contact with Roy, pretending to look for directive signage. He can’t see me now because I’m pushing him down the hall, yet, somehow he knows I had a meltdown. He says, “Seeing that little guy reminds me how much we have to be grateful for, doesn’t it?” I want to stop the wheelchair and just lay face down somewhere and cry. I can’t allow myself that moment here. I need to get him to this appointment. I keep pushing the wheelchair, trying to take deep breaths without being obvious. He repeats, “We have so much to be grateful for, don’t we?” This time, the tone is more declarative, using his middle school teacher voice, not really asking a question.

I’m choking back tears, searching for words. I’m actually speechless. Impulsively, I blurt this out, “What do you mean?” Now, I actually stop the wheelchair, pushing it up to a round table, and I sit down. There are more people around, but it still feels like time stopped. I’m thinking about the pain, the disappointment that the cancer diagnosis is terminal, and it feels like my heart is literally breaking open. Roy doesn’t miss a beat, and begins to make a list: “Look at this great place we are at. They (the staff) got us in before everyone else this morning, you’ve really learned how to navigate your way around this place.” He grabs my hand and adds, “We have each other.”

That was in October 2007, and when I think back to this moment, my eyes still fill with tears. In less then eight weeks, Roy underwent numerous medical procedures, consultations and then we made the decision for hospice. He died at home in November 2007, about eight weeks after the initial cancer diagnosis.

My life changed because of his death and because of my husband’s beautiful acceptance of his death. I’m now co-writing a book, with psychologist James Windell, for other widows. We’re talking with widows of all ages about their experiences. Some widows lost their husbands to suicide, the war, substance abuse, heart attacks and sudden tragic accidents. When I listen to them, I often, can’t help thinking back to those brutal months in 2007. I felt isolation, even around others, and loneliness aside from grief — the kind of sorrow widows share. James and I are writing this book with the hope that when other widows read it they will feel less alone.