Should I Leave My Daughter?

I’m a father of a wonderful daughter of 2 years old. I’ve read the book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” several times now and I loved it.  I don’t know if this is possible but I’d like an advice from Dr Meeker.  I’m Swiss and my wife is Colombian. We used to live in Switzerland but my wife wasn’t happy over there and had health issues, so we decided to move to Bogota, Colombia.  Our daughter was less that one year old at this moment. I bought Dr Meeker’s book before she was born and it changed my life and the perception of parenting forever.

Now, after some serious complications for a long time, I’m probably going to get divorced (bilateral decision). Because her mom and dad doesn’t love each other enough and because not showing an example of love inside of a home is not a good thing for our baby and staying in a relationship like this is neither a good one. As you can imagine, living in Bogota is not really simple for a Swiss guy. I’m new, without any social circle and not happy at all here, living in a big city and trying to manage the language. I moved because it was the only choice I had to keep my family together but it failed. If I get separated, financially it would be almost impossible to leave over there.

I’m now thinking about leaving Colombia to go back to my home country, but being separated from my daughter is an horrific thought. I could see her during vacation time one month a year at best, and I think it would be better for her to have a happy dad, but it would mean that her father would live thousand of kilometers away from her. And I’m afraid that I couldn’t give her the love, attention and care she needs from her father. She is still very young (2yo) right now so I won’t be as hard as later in her life I think.

I know that superheroes should sacrifice themselves, but should I really stay in a place where I feel I can not give what I would like to my daughter or show her the things I would like (that I had from the place I used to live)?? I’m not comfortable here, and as you can imagine, I will maybe see here once every weekend when we are going to get divorced.

If there is a chance that I get an answer from Dr Meeker, I’d like to thank you for the time to read my email.

Best regards,
A Loving Father

PS: Thank you so much for writing this wonderful book, it has changed my life forever.

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Dear Loving Father,

I can hear in your voice that you have a deep love for your daughter and that you are in a situation where you feel trapped. Let me first encourage you with this- you can change your life for the better no matter where you are.

Now let’s get down to business. Sit down because you aren’t going to like my answer but since your daughter can’t speak for herself, I will try to speak for her. Your little girl wants you in her life- period. She isn’t concerned with how happy you are or are not because she’s a child. She wants her Dad whether he’s miserable or happy.

Second, she needs you. She needs you to be there to hug her at night, to take her to her first day of kindergarten and to meet her friends. She needs you to take her on walks, learn to ride a bike and to meet her first boyfriend. (Did you read in my book how you should be there to shake that young man’s hand- hard- the first time you meet him?)

There is NO question that your daughter will grow up to be a happier, healthier and stronger young woman if you stay near her. You know that in your heart and that’s why you are struggling so much. If you move to Switzerland, you will become a stranger to your daughter. I know this because I’ve seen countless girls grow up with fathers who live across the country, let alone in another country. At first, you may stay fairly well connected but after one or two years, her interest in you will drop off and you will drift further apart. On top of that, there is a good chance that her mother will remarry someone from Columbia and that man will raise your daughter. Do you really want that? I can tell you that without question, your daughter wants you, not another man.

I know that you are terribly unhappy but I believe that leaving your daughter will bring more misery to you. So, for your daughter’s sake and yours too, stay in Columbia. That’s the right thing to do. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to be miserable for the rest of your life. Just get through this year and don’t think about what life will be like in 2 or 3 years. Find a counselor to help you get back on your feet. If you are unhappy in Columbia and move to Switzerland to become happy, you are mistaken. Your unhappiness will follow you because it comes from inside of you not from the country.

You can make a good life there.  Find some friends. Get a new job. Learn the language. Go see a counselor or doctor who can help you and as I said, get through one day at a time.

Here’s the bottom line. If you leave, I can guarantee that in 10 or 20 years, you will live with a lifetime of regrets because you will not know your precious daughter and she will have been deprived of a good father. But if you stay, I guarantee, you will not have regrets. In the short term, you will have to muddle through your temporary unhappiness but over the long haul, you will know in your heart that you made the right decision and you’ll have a daughter who will want you to walk her down the aisle when she gets married.

I know that you can get through this because you are a good Dad.

Sincerely,
Dr. Meg

 

10 Days Without

10 Days Without

Want to Shake Up Your Life?  Try 10 Days Without….

Daniel Day’s new book, Ten Days Without is an extraordinary lesson in life, discomfort, love and change. If you need to shake up your life in order to get unstuck, read the book.  You will never put your coat on the same way.

Several years ago, Daniel decided that he wanted to give shoes to children who didn’t have any. So, like any clear-thinking person, he decided to live without shoes for 10 days. Then, he asked friends to support him by donating shoes to needy children. He collected dozens of shoes for poor children and then had another idea. The children needed coats too.

So during a Colorado winter, Daniel decided to collect coats for them by, you guessed it, going 10 days without a coat. His children watched him get in his car during snowstorms with only a shirt on.  When I asked Daniel about the experience, I was struck by his enthusiasm. Yes, he froze, he said, but not in a way that made me feel badly for him but rather in a way that made me want to try it to. Why? Because I heard something in his voice that made me realize, the experience deeply changed him. And I wanted to change too.

“You will never take shoes for granted again when you stop at a gas station to use the men’s room and you have no shoes on. And in the winter, when driving your kids to school without a coat, you come to appreciate the warmth you throw around your shoulders numerous times a day without a thought.”

But Daniel didn’t stop at going 10 days without shoes and coats. He dug deeper to find what really lay inside of him and what needed to change in order to serve those who are less fortunate. He went without furniture, legs, (his wife wheeled him in a wheel chair for 10 days) media (couldn’t we all benefit from that?) human touch and what would be hardest for me, speech.

Beyond helping those who are less fortunate, why do something so radical, I wondered.  As I spoke with Daniel, it became clear that depriving oneself of common luxuries (really, needs) sharpens ones sensibilities. And this is important if we are to   choose to meaningfully engage others around us. Most of us spend our days so focused on ourselves that we really don’t see or hear the needs of others around us.  We see the needs of the poor, that’s easy, just turn on the television. What we miss is seeing the needs of those we love. We miss seeing the blessings that we sit on, walk on, listen with and speak with every hour of every day. We live with such dulled senses that we ignore the goodness of life around us and the needs of those who walk into the same room.

So kudos to you, Daniel. You have taught me a sobering lesson. I don’t know about you who read this, but I’m going to follow Daniel’s lead because I don’t want to miss the goodness in life. And I most certainly don’t want to miss seeing the life and love in my family, friends and patients I encounter every day. For you who are skeptical about all of this, just read 10 Days Without and if afterward, you don’t want to try any of these disciplines, you can still learn about yourself by reading about Daniel’s.

Get a copy of 10 Days Without. Watch on YouTube.
Daniel & Rebecca on Family Talk Broadcast

 

Small Changes Mean Big Changes

Small Changes Mean Big Changes

It’s 2015. Let’s Talk About Your Phone

One of the most phenomenal truths about parenting is this: when we parents, make one small change in our speech, attitude or behaviors, enormous changes can take place in our relationships with our children.  For instance, try looking at your children in the face when they talk. You will find that they feel more valued. This in turn draws you closer to them. If you let them finish talking before you speak, they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say. And if you get in the habit of saying something as simple as “what do you think?” suddenly your children want to talk to you more frequently.

I’d like to invite you to make another simple change that I’m trying to make this year- turn my phone off for an hour a day. Actually, I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks now and it’s so relaxing, I’m increasing the time to 2 hours.

I don’t have children living with me anymore but I do spend evenings with my husband and the truth is, many evenings can pass without either of us talking very much. He has a lot of work to do dictating patient’s charts via Dragon on his computer and I can always find work to do. I don’t have a problem closing my laptop but that phone- it’s small enough to just follow me wherever I go. Friends call, I need to check email (really?) and of course, if the kids need me, I want to be ready to read a text. Who knows, they could end up in a hospital somewhere and I should always have my phone ready in case they need me, right? Hmm.

These were a few of the thoughts that ran through my mind as I first contemplated turning my phone off in the evening. The kicker that almost held me back was this: what if my granddaughter wanted to Face Time with me and I missed it? That just could not happen.

But here’s the reality. My husband and I raised each of our four children without cell phones and as far as I can remember, we didn‘t miss out on much. My daughter was in a car accident and somehow she called us. Was it from a pay phone that smelled like aftershave? I can’t remember. But I do remember going to get her at the hospital and I hadn’t come too late.

Convincing ourselves to stay connected to the little buggers is pretty easy. What’s hard is disciplining us to disconnect from the phone, but let me assure you that you won’t miss out. In fact, you will gain a whole lot. When I turn my phone off at night, I can hear my husband work. I think about what he’s done that day and even though he doesn’t always pay attention to me, I pay attention to him. I can hear him stop and when he does; we make tea and drink it together. I know that sounds silly but that’s what you do when you’re old people. You drink tea. And you talk.

If my phone were on, I can guarantee one thing, I wouldn’t hear him finish his work because I would be working. The truth is, we are both a bit obsessive about our work and we can ignore one another and life pretty handily. But when my phone is off, it’s harder to ignore him and life and I’m glad about that. I don’t want him to be ignored and I don’t want to be ignored either.

So tonight, join me. Turn your phone off for an hour and listen to the life that is happening in your house. You will be amazed at what you hear. The children will be chatting with friends, the dog will want food and your husband may be watching television or working. But you will be there listening and that is important because as you listen, you will become wiser. That is what we parents need, to be wiser and to know what’s actually happening in our children’s lives. How will we ever know if we don’t stop for even an hour a night and listen?

Here’s the best part. Your son or daughter might catch you. What will you say if he or she catches you and says, “Mom, why are you doing nothing?”  I hope you respond with something like this: “Oh, I’m not doing nothing. I’m paying attention to everyone I love just in case they need something. Maybe to talk or to have a snack or maybe to drink tea with me.”

If that doesn’t draw you closer to your children, I don’t know what will.

Helping Children Who Face Tragedy

Dear Dr. Meg,

My son-in-law died last night in a car crash. The children are 6 (a son) and 8 (a daughter). How can we best help them???

Signed,
Pam

________________

Dear Pam-

Words cannot express how sorry I am for you with the loss of your son-in-law. I have experienced sudden tragedy and have had parents in my practice who have been in your same situation. There is no easy route through this but I can share with you some of the ways other parents and grandparents have helped children cope with tragedy.

Breaking shocking news to children is terribly difficult and must be done gently. The best thing for the children is to have an adult who is very close to them bring the news. It may be a mother, grandmother or other family member. If that person is you, sit very close to the children and tell them that you has something very sad to say. Then very simply explain what happened. Do not go into detail that would make the pain greater (ie., the details of the car accident that are frightening.)

Some children will cry, others may run out of the room and still others may appear not to react at all. Each of these responses is normal. Wait for the children to ask questions or even sit with them if they say nothing. Never rush this time. It is perfectly appropriate for the adults in the room to cry so don’t hold tears back. Let the children know that you are hurting too. If, however, you or someone else is truly despondent or hysterical, someone else should handle the children because these behaviors really frighten them.

After the initial shock has subsided, it is very important to reassure the children that they will be OK. Many fear that they, their mother or grandparents will die too. This is normal. While you don’t know what the future holds, it is perfectly appropriate to tell the children that you or another close adult will care for them. Reiterate this frequently because with their father gone, they will feel as though their safety and security is at risk. Some feel as though their world has collapsed and don’t know how they will cope.

Children, like adults, need hope in order to get through tragedies and as a one who loves and believes in God and heaven, I try to communicate to those who are hurting that God will help. If children ask why God made (or allowed) the accident to happen, simply say that you don’t know. But reassure them that God will help. Don’t be preachy or quote scripture or anything else. Just reassure them that God hurts too and that He is good.

They should go to the funeral at these ages because this is an important part of the grieving process. If their mother is absorbed in her own grief, then you as the grandmother must be emotionally and physically available for the children. Take them places, read to them, put them to bed. This allows their mother to have her own grieving period and it comforts the kids too. Try to keep a similar routine to the one before the tragedy at home because this helps them feel safe. Most importantly, be emotionally and physically available for the children over the ensuing months. They will need to lean on someone whom they feel is safe and who can handle their feelings. Often children try to protect their mothers from hurting more so they hide their feelings from her. You, however, can be the person that they won’t worry about and who can offer full support without causing them worry.

As they recover, talk about their father. Ask the children what they think their dad would have done, liked, etc in certain situations. Many adults worry that this will make the children feel badly but it won’t. They are thinking about their dad and avoiding bringing up his name makes the children feel lonely and odd for thinking about him. Don’t overdo this, but keep their father in the conversations. This will help their grief.

Many parents ask if they should take the children to a counselor. There is no hard and fast answer. I tell parents to pay close attention to the children’s moods and behaviors and watch for the normal progression of the grief process. If, at any time, the process looks like it is getting “stuck” then taking them to a counselor may help. Here are some signs of healthy grief progression that you can look for:

First stage of grief: child will cry frequently or even become withdrawn, have sleep difficulties and not want to go to school. Or, he may be angry and lash out at the person he feels most comfortable with (usually mom.) This will last for several months. Acknowledge is feelings but try to help him keep a regular routine.

Second stage of grief: The child may still cry or have anger outbursts but they will be less frequent. Between periods of sadness or anger, the child will show interest in friends, playing, going to friends’ homes, etc. The child may not want to talk about the deceased parent at all. This may hurt their mother’s feelings because she fears that they will forget about their father. She should not force the kids to talk about their dad.

Third stage: The child may become more comfortable talking about their father but he will feel more distant and this will bother their mother. At your grandchildren’s ages, time feels very different. One month to them may feel like six months to you. They may have residual fears about dying- either that their mother or they will die. They may have some sleep problems and want to come into their mother’s room to sleep. I would let them if they are sad or frightened.

Final stage of grief: The children talk about their father in a comfortable manner and refer to him in the past tense. This is troubling for mothers but it is perfectly normal for children. If the child had school troubles following the death, they should be resolving. His grades should improve and interest in playing, friends, sports, etc., should be back to normal.

How long should all of this take? This varies according to the age of the child (the younger the child, the quicker the resolution in general) and very importantly, these stages will go faster if the child had a healthy relationship with the deceased parent. If the child had a painful or volatile relationship with the deceased, he is more likely to progress more slowly through the stages or get “stuck” in one stage. So, if you see a child not moving forward in the grief process after several months or at least one year, counseling may really help.

It is important to state that these are guidelines only. Every child is different and almost any behavior is normal. Each child processes pain differently but I want to encourage you that every child can be helped through the pain and move past it. Your grandchildren and daughter will get through this terrible tragedy with the consistent love and support that you and friends offer.

One final word. The best help that you or their mother can give the children is to get help for yourselves. Children carry their parents’ pain. If their mother progresses through her grief in a healthy manner, then the children will do the same. If, however, she can’t, then the children will have a much harder time resolving their own grief and moving forward.  God Bless you all.

Sincerely, Dr. Meg

10 Habits of Happy Mothers

10 Habits of Happy Mothers

Hello Dr Meeker.  I happened to pick up your book in the library recently, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, because the title sounded interesting.  I read the first few pages in the there, took it home and didn’t get back to it until I was dropping it off at the library 3 weeks later when it was due.  As I went to the drive-up drop off box, it was early in the morning, so not many people were using it, something made me stop and decide to skim read.  I got to the last chapter on hope.  At that point I pulled my car forward, found a parking spot, and read through the last chapter.  WOW!  I have been experiencing a lack of hope lately and I did not expect to be hit between the eyes with it that morning, nor did I realize what it was that I was lacking until then.  I was relieved and happily so, because of how you introduced God into the picture as the foundation for that hope from which inward joy springs.  I took the book back home, shared it with my husband, and am now rereading it.  Thank you for your work and your faithfulness.  I am a registered  pediatric and neonatal nurse who has been a stay at home mom for 12 years with our 4 children.  I actually want to go back to school to become a pediatrician.  My kids are between the ages of 8 and 14 years.  My husband thinks I should go for it.  Do you think this would be realistic?  Thank you!!

Signed,
Tanya

______________

Dear Tanya,

Thank you for your letter. I love how God works- that He would gently nudge you in the early morning next to a drop box, to keep reading. That’s pretty cool.

I wrote the last chapter on hope for a specific reason. That is- to remind each of us mothers to constantly seek God for our future plans. So many of us become tangled in the stress of the moment that we find ourselves bogged down with a sense that nothing changes and that nothing good will ever come from our efforts. That is most certainly NOT true when we let God lead. Remember what He tells us through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

We often forget to read the end of this beautiful promise that God gives us and that is to seek him with all of our hearts. No mumbo-jumbo pretense before friends or family. Just a deep heart search for God.

Here’s what I encourage you to do regarding your future in medicine because without knowing your home situation, it’s hard to advise you one way or another. Begin seeking God, not just His will for you. So many times we come to God and ask questions and beg for answers but the answers never come. So rather than seek a specific answer, try simply seeking Him. Try to see  His face and imagine what it must look like.  I can promise you that if you do this in a deeply personal way, you will never, ever be disappointed because He’s so good.

Bless you my friend.

Dr. Meg