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Parent puzzler: What I told Sam’s mom

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Dr. Meg Meeker

WOW. I love everyone’s answers to Wednesday’s parent puzzler. Several of you had been in similar predicaments yourself and others had some really insightful, thought-provoking tidbits.  Ok, you’re probably wondering what I told Sam’s mom…

After asking questions about home life, I learned that Sam’s father had recently taken a job where he had to be gone from home for three to four weeks at a time. When he was home, he spent a lot of time with Sam. Sam’s mother admitted that after he had been gone a while and then returned home, the couple had difficulty readjusting to being together. Each had become independent when they were apart and working together became a challenge- particularly for Sam’s mother.

While his father was gone, Sam slept poorly. He had nightmares about robbers breaking in to the house. He often ran into his mother’s room and slept with her. His mother made him leave her bed, telling him that when Daddy was gone, he had to the “man of the house.” She also told him that he needed to help out with her sister and behave because Daddy would be upset with him if he didn’t.

Sam was suffering from feeling confused, sad and overloaded when his father was away. I see this frequently in boys from divorced families when they don’t get to spend much time with Dad. Here’s what I encouraged Mom to do.

  1. Encourage Sam to be a boy, not a man. Let him know that Mom and Dad are the grownups and that even though Dad is away, Sam doesn’t need to protect the family. That’s Dad’s job and he makes sure that everyone is OK, even while he’s gone.
  2. Have Dad skype, or talk on the phone more with Sam. Sam needed to hear his Dad’s voice, see his face and know that he- Sam was safe without his Dad around. Children feel scared and unsafe without Dads and we Moms need to help them realize that they are OK. They learn this best with more contact with Dad. Try as we might, Moms can’t always make boys feel as safe as Dads can.
  3. Help him let go of his sadness about Dad being gone. Many boys get sad and show it by being angry. Sam wasn’t a bad kid and he didn’t have ADHD- he was simply bouncing off the walls and hitting kids to try and get rid of his frustration about missing his Dad. And- he was trying to get attention.  Once Mom helped him talk about missing his Dad and encouraged him to cry it out, his behavior dramatically improved.
  4. Tell Sam that Mommy and Daddy are working out their problems, not to worry. When Sam heard his parents argue every time his father returned from a trip, he thought they were going to get a divorce. This terrified him and he showed his fear by acting mean at home and at school.

Sam and his Mom had a great heart-to-heart and I hear Sam’s behavior has completely turned around.

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