Power in Parenting

“Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. – Mark 11:23

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

Does God live inside of you? If so, then you are omnipotent. If you believe it, summon that power to direct, lead, and guide your child to success. Summon that power to overcome fear. Invoke the power of love to create a magnificent son/daughter who will create, thrive, and accomplish all that he/she desires.

Do you doubt that it’s possible? You have contemporary examples visibly in front of you every day. How do you think Richard and Oracene (Price) Williams did it? How about Sonya Carson? What about Joy Moore? And the list goes on and on of parents who decided that their children were going to reach their full potential, then got about the business of accessing and exercising their parenting power to nurture, teach, and develop them.

But know this—it’s not easy. It takes hard work, stamina, perseverance, sacrifice, and unwavering commitment. The work is hard because the reward is beyond great.

As we’ve already discussed, you do not have to be perfect. Heck, none of us are. But you do have to be attuned to your child’s needs and meet them (see Relationships post, February).

You do need to be focused on developing your child (see all previous posts, especially Education).

And you do need to attend to being your best self so that you don’t get in the way of your child’s success (see Therapy and Counseling, March).

Parenting is the hardest job, bar none. And it’s the most rewarding, bar none.

If you don’t know your power in parenting, I highly suggest your discover it. Your child’s ability to thrive depends on it, as does the Black family, the Black community, and our nation.

We wish you peace, love, and Power in Parenting.

College and Beyond

I remember someone making the pronouncement that all grades before high school are simply practice for the real thing. The statement was made in reference to applying for college. Those of us who have been indoctrinated into the college application process know that the critical years are tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, with eleventh grade being the lynchpin.

I agree with the statement about the importance of the high school years, but if your child hasn’t been committed to learning and exercising his skills during the practice years, he’s not going to be triumphant in high school. My husband used to tell our daughter that the key to winning (referring to basketball) starts in practice. He would say, “If you’re not going to go hard in practice, you’re not going to go hard in the game.” So, before we move into a discussion about the high school years, I encourage you to recall what was discussed in the three Education posts (September, October, and November 2015).

Preparing for College Admission

Ninth grade is a transition year. It’s your child’s opportunity to get accustomed to the new routine of high school. Give her some leeway to figure things out, as she’s being introduced to a different level of coursework, social scene, athletic competition, etc. which all require a different level of maturity. Some students are better at navigating the labyrinth, while others get turned around. Be attuned to what’s going on, and be especially mindful of their relationships (see February post about Relationships). Definitely make sure that she continues to give her all academically.

When colleges review your child’s transcript, they recognize ninth grade as a transition year and are far more forgiving if those grades don’t reflect your child’s best effort. That’s, of course, if the 10th, 11th, and 12th year grades are in the good to stellar range. However, if all four years are marginal, your child’s prospects of getting into competitive universities or colleges (if that’s the goal) aren’t likely. But even if that’s the case, he still has the option of transferring to a preferred school if he works hard and does really well during the freshman and sophomore years of college.

In addition to giving his all academically, your child should establish himself as a contributing member of the high school community. There are opportunities to distinguish oneself through service (leadership and community service), athletics, and the arts. If your child has paid employment during the school year in addition to participating in extra-curricular activities, she should highlight that in her application or when talking with representatives from college admissions offices. If work precludes your child from participating in the life of the school, she wants to emphasize that fact to admissions officers, as well. For example, if your child must work to contribute to the household (paid employment, babysitting a younger sibling so parents can work, etc.), it’s imperative that she convey that on their college application because it speaks to her tenacity, maturity, and work ethic, among other characteristics.

In terms of academic rigor in high school courses, your child should challenge himself. Easy classes will not adequately prepare him for college-level work. If your child is the first in the family to attend college, or his high school college advising is not up to par or non-existent, direct him to this link, http://www.firstgenerationstudent.com/plan/. It provides a plan for everything he needs to do from ninth through twelfth grades. The site is also helpful if your child isn’t the first in the family to attend college but needs more direction than their college advising department is providing.

The eleventh grade year is crucial, as it’s the most advanced full year’s coursework that admissions offices will see as part of the application. Remember, applications are due in November of senior year for early application and January for regular decision. The third and fourth quarter grades from senior year are sent after your child is accepted.

Eleventh grade is also the time of high-stakes testing. The PSAT is required for every student whether they’re attending college or not. And your child should take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the winter or spring of junior year. If your child scores well on the PSAT, the scores will be sent to colleges which can translate into recruitment and scholarship offers even before she submits a college application. The PSAT is an important piece of the college admissions process. Make sure that your child takes is seriously.

Both of our children took an SAT prep course the summer before eleventh grade. The course prepared them for the PSAT and the subsequent SAT (there’s no need to take a separate prep course for both; the SAT prep sufficiently prepares for both). All prep courses aren’t equal. If you’re going to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars (it was a precipitous drop in price from the time our son took it to four years later when our daughter enrolled in the course), you want to have some guarantee of improved performance. Look for programs that offer a guarantee. If you prefer to forgo a program or cannot afford the cost, encourage your child to study on her own. Go to the test-prep section of any bookstore or search online for guides and resources.

Encourage your child to make good use of teachers. Ask English teachers to review college essays and give feedback to ensure that the writing reflects his best effort. Lastly, he should not procrastinate. Your child should plan to have all applications complete at least a week in advance of the deadline. That way, he’ll have ample time to review the submissions and feel confident that he’s presenting his best self before hitting the “send” button. He should also check-in on teachers who are writing recommendations and on the college advising office to be sure that materials are being submitted on time.

If your child is going to undertake post-secondary training other than college, she needs to approach the process with the same focused energy required for the college admissions process. Start early, stay on top of deadlines (tests, recommendations, applications), seek out test prep courses or self-guided resources, and prepare for interviews.

Developing the Professional Self

After learning that our son was headed to Yale, a Harvard alum said, “No one has ever asked me about my GPA. Go to school and have fun. Just don’t flunk out.” Our son never came close to flunking out. He was more than adequately prepared to ace college. And he absolutely had fun. He played intermural and club sports, traveled the world, and joined social societies. Our daughter, too, is now enjoying the college experience. She plays club sports, mentors in the St. Louis community, and is an active member of various school-sponsored organizations and social societies.

Unless your child is on a track that leaves little time for extracurriculars, or he has to spend considerable hours working, he should approach college as an opportunity to explore interests, and begin to hone his professional identity. Encourage him to use elective credits to learn about subjects that pique his curiosity. In addition to studying and doing the required coursework, he should get involved in the community – through sports, the arts, social organizations, etc. These are opportunities to form bonds with other students and administrators that will invariably become opportunities to learn, grow, and establish a network.

This is also the time to begin preparing for life after college. Summer internships provide exposure to professional etiquette and environments. Your child will also begin building a professional resume which will make her more marketable for post-college pursuits. Shortly after arriving to campus, she should visit the office responsible for internships, and familiarize herself with the application and interview processes. You should strongly encourage her to take advantage of all resources such as mock interviews, resume writing workshops, etc. Before she goes on an interview, make sure that your college student is well-versed and in possession of appropriate interview attire. There are plenty of resource sites on the internet if either of you has questions or needs advice.

Be sure to establish relationships with professors by taking advantage of their office hours. Even if your child doesn’t feel like he needs additional help, he should try to establish a personal relationship with professors, particularly those teaching subjects related to his career interests. Those same professors can give him insight into professions, initiate connections for him that may lead to internships or full-time employment, and write recommendations for graduate school. In doing so, your son is learning and honing personal and professional skills that will sustain him throughout the life of his career and beyond (civic engagement, etc.).

As soon as your son/daughter returns to campus to begin senior year, he/she should finalize a resume and cover letter, and begin looking for positions. The first resumes should go out in October. Remember, the early bird gets the worm. If she procrastinates, she’ll be in the same pool with the majority of college graduates looking for jobs after graduation. If she’s already familiarized herself with the folks and resources in the career services department, she’ll know exactly where to begin her search for job announcements.

Well, that’s all we’ve got. This is the end of the how-to’s for raising academically and socially successful Black children. Next month we’ll conclude with Power in Parenting.

Our Story

William and I are now empty-nesters. Our adult son is self-sufficient and living on the other side of the country, and our daughter is completing her freshman year in college. Some months back we were out to dinner waiting for our server to bring entrees when I asked my husband about his hopes and dreams. It perplexed me that he said he didn’t have any, because I know he wants to return to school in the near future, and he has plans for another profession after he retires from the fire department. As far as I’m concerned, those are dreams. I prodded and mentioned school and his post-retirement life. He replied, “Those are goals, not dreams. I don’t have any dreams for myself.” He added that all his hopes and dreams are reserved for our children. “I want them to be happy and have beautiful families. That’s my only dream.”

We both, in our own way, tried to create for our children our vision of an idyllic childhood, while also paving a path that would lead to success in adulthood. I was deliberate and intentional about providing a challenging academic experience, and William was committed to being an affectionate and supportive father. Our styles were complements. If I were to ask our children for a metaphor to describe our parenting styles, they would probably say that his was the salve to my burn.

I’ll give you some background so you’ll have a better sense of the childhood experiences that influenced our parenting styles.

Because my dad’s standard for academic performance was so high, I wasn’t ever really challenged in school. I had great teachers, yet my dad established very early on that my work had to meet his standards not theirs. I didn’t have to put forth a lot of effort to earn an A because I was accustomed to performing at a level that was acceptable to him, which made school seem relatively easy. Because I didn’t have to work hard, I took education for granted – I did just enough to get good grades instead of striving to be a learned person. I was adamant that our children’s educational journeys would be different.

William’s father was from the Deep South. He was hard-working and the primary breadwinner for his family. Like most Black fathers of his generation, he didn’t express his love with hugs and kisses, and he didn’t verbalize “I love you”. Instead, he demonstrated care and commitment by going to work every day, providing for his family, and being a responsible member of his church community. My father-in-law (whom I never met), was 49 years older than William. He wasn’t playful and didn’t engage with his children the way some younger fathers might (through sports, etc.). He died from health complications when William was 17.

And here’s how our backgrounds showed up in our family life.

I took the lead regarding education, and William took the lead in all matters related to sports and athletic development. We were co-leaders in exposing them to formal music training, first through piano lessons then guitar.

I was unyielding that our son and daughter perform at their highest ability. If you’ve read part 3 of the Education posts (November 2015), you have a sense of their foundation. I was more steadfast with our son. When he was a toddler, I determined that he would land at the highest-tier college, hoping that the corresponding advantages would shield him from some of the harsher realities of life for Black males in America. I gave our daughter more latitude in terms of her academic performance, though she was never permitted to slack. I felt that it was more important to give her an impenetrable armor of self-assuredness to withstand the barrage of assaults that Black women face around physical beauty, emotional stability (e.g., the angry Black woman), and morality. I wanted to protect her, and I believed the best way to do that was to imbue her with a solid sense of self.

William was the voice of reason in our home. Oftentimes, he told me when to let up and when I was pushing too hard and demanding too much. He was also our children’s coach, trainer, and best friend. William introduced them to sports at a very early age, and later, at the age of five, they both began playing organized sports. For our son, William was either coach or assistant coach for every team he played on, up until high school. William introduced our daughter to art and helped develop her talent. He also taught her to read. She was the only one in the class who began kindergarten reading fluidly. She and William had a ritual of bedtime reading. When she was three years-old, she told him she wanted to read to him instead of his reading to her, so he bought a large phonics book and taught her how to read. In terms of our daughter’s confidence, both William and our son were instrumental in affirming her worth by setting a high bar for athletic performance and expectations for how she should be treated by the opposite sex.

Both children attended a total of three schools prior to college. Our son received his foundation at an African-centered school from ages two to seven before transferring to a public school for one year. In fourth grade, he began prep school where he stayed through twelfth. Our daughter was in public school for kindergarten and first grade. She moved to a small, nurturing, private school in second grade and began prep school in sixth grade, where she stayed through twelfth. Each time they switched schools, it was for more rigor in the classroom. The two prep schools, St. Albans and National Cathedral, provided the challenge they needed and then some. They both thrived in those environments – academically, socially, and athletically.

Both established themselves as leaders among their peers very early. William and I expected and demanded that they be of sound character, be resolute about right and wrong, and take a stand when necessary.

During our son’s first year at St. Albans, another parent told me how happy she was that our sons were in the same class. She recounted this story – her son, who is Black, had received an award. Some of the White classmates commented that he didn’t deserve it. The award winner turned to our son wanting to know how he felt. Our son’s response was something like this, “Why do you care what they think? They don’t have any awards, you do.” This woman’s son went home and told his mother how our son’s perspective made him feel. He went from questioning his worthiness to being assured of it, all because of what our son said! I was so thankful that she shared that story with me. What’s more remarkable is that our son was a full year younger than almost everyone in the class. Yet, from the beginning, he established himself as the consummate leader. Every morning, before dropping our son at school, William would say to him, “Be a leader today, Dream.” Our son took those words to heart. He was elected to leadership positions throughout his time at St. Albans, including serving as Head Prefect during his senior year which meant he was head of student government, the entire student body, and the honor council. Upon graduation, he received the award for “best all-around boy” as voted by the students and confirmed by the faculty. He was also a standout at Yale.

Even though we’re in different parts of the country, the four of us still communicate daily. William sometimes ends his morning texts or conversations with “BALT”. Our son knows it means, “Be A Leader Today.”

Our daughter is more reserved, but no less a leader. On her first day of class at National Cathedral, she challenged a classmate’s false rendition of an incident. Our daughter set the record straight by interrupting and telling the teacher what actually happened. As she was speaking, some girls were sharply whispering at her, “Stop. Don’t say anything else.” But she persisted until the truth was told. Our daughter wasn’t the subject of the lie, and yet she felt compelled to stop them from telling a lie on someone else. When she came home and recounted the story, I told her, “Do you know the majority of adults can’t do what you did today? You are a leader!” And she continued to be a leader among her peers, including holding the office of student government leader, in addition to service leadership positions as an acolyte and a member of vestry.

I’ll close with an email that our daughter shared with me five weeks into her freshman year at college. The email is addressed to an author who was required reading for a freshman seminar. The author’s reply was powerful, but I’m not including it to preserve her privacy. I’m sharing the content to give you a sense of our daughter’s confidence, thoughtfulness, and understanding of very complex issues.

William and I are most thankful to have been chosen to nurture and guide these two, very special people.

Next month’s post is about preparing your child for College and Beyond.

Hi Mrs. Patrick,

I read The Truth About Awiti for my freshman seminar on black women’s history at Wash. U in St. Louis, and I found it striking that Awiti’s pain and its manifestation in destructive behavior persists for centuries. In my head, I likened it to an expression that my mother likes to use, “we’re all still healing”. I’m from D.C. and went to the National Cathedral School for the bulk of my education. I don’t know if you’re familiar but it’s a predominantly white environment, and just to give you an idea of the context in which we would use that phrase, I encountered a lot of black people, girls especially because it is an all girls school, who weren’t completely comfortable in their skin. I distinctly remember hearing a black classmate who is “still healing” say “no one wants to be any more ethnic than they already are”. Because you spoke from such an interesting perspective, I was just curious as to whether or not you think that we (black people) will ever be completely healed. Especially when it seems that people are consistently tearing at our wounds. I hope that this reaches you. I wasn’t exactly sure where to find a personal email.



Partnership Parenting

“Two people who are on the same page, working together towards the same goal, can accomplish anything.” – My Dad (referring to marriage)

I’ve heard my dad make this proclamation often. The first time was when I was in my late teens. Having now been married for 20-plus years, I would give a nod to its accuracy related to marriage, and to raising children. “Being on the same page” and “working together towards the same goal” exemplify a true partnership, in my mind. And partnership best describes my husband’s and my parenting style. We both are equally responsible for our children’s success. We both gave it our all, putting in 100% to ensure that our children reached their full potential, and we continue to do so; though, as parents of young adults, our roles are more along the lines of providing support and giving guidance rather than being hands-on.

Because it worked so well for us, I believe partnership parenting is highly effective. The basis of this parenting style is a direct and intentional focus on promoting the child’s well-being and success. The parents mutually agree and are committed to the goal of nurturing, protecting, and cultivating the child into a well-adjusted, successful adult. With partnership parenting, the marriage or intimate relationship between the parents can dissolve, yet the parenting partnership remains intact. Unless parental involvement negatively impacts the child, nothing interferes with either parent’s involvement in the child’s life, and a mutually respectful, amicable relationship between the parents.

Here’s a scenario to illustrate partnership parenting. The child’s current educational environment isn’t meeting her needs. If possible, both parents meet with teachers, administrators, etc. to problem solve. Going forward, if there’s no improvement, the parents jointly decide the next steps. If those next steps involve unanticipated financial considerations, e.g., tutoring, private school, etc., both figure out how to afford the cost and if necessary, both agree to make concessions such as decreasing spending in one or more areas. With partnership parenting, the scenario plays out the same way for married/involved couples as it does for separated/divorced or otherwise dissolved unions. Partnership parenting is unambiguous and the level of commitment does not change based on the level of intimacy between the parents. As such, partnership parenting is not for the immature or the self-absorbed.

Optimally, adults should begin thinking about the dynamics of parenting before the birth of the child, as it’s a huge lifestyle change that requires serious dedication and a tremendous amount of sacrifice (time, resources, etc.). As part of the parenting responsibility, at the appropriate time, we should educate our children about the characteristics to seek in a spouse. Unfortunately, some of us don’t know what to look for or how to attract someone who has the requisite qualities. If you have a pattern of attracting or being attracted to the immature and self-absorbed, you may need to seek help, such as therapy.

Once you’ve nurtured, given guidance, and cultivated wonderful children, you want to equip them with the foresight and skills to do the same for their progeny. You want them to attract and be attracted to someone who shares their values (two people on the same page) and strives with them (working together) to achieve common goals. With partnership parenting, the sky’s the limit. You can accomplish anything.

In next month’s post, we’ll share Our Story.

Therapy and Counseling

It was a Sunday morning. As soon as I awoke, still lying in bed, I experienced an intense emotion. I was off kilter but couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was experiencing. As I got out of bed thoughts began flooding my mind. They weren’t good thoughts. I began to feel extremely angry, anger like I hadn’t known before. I feverishly looked around for my phone and typed a hurried text to Nancy, my therapist. We hadn’t spoken in almost two years, but I knew something was wrong and I needed her help. She replied immediately and we agreed to meet Tuesday night. Tuesday rolled around. As soon as we met at her door, we hugged. I walked past her, headed for the living room, and before she could close the door I started spilling, “So, I woke up Sunday and …..” I was already seated on the couch and still going on and on when she sat down in a chair across from me. When there was a momentary break, she prodded me to “keep talking”. Finally she asked, “So, Sonja, what do you think is going on?” And I told her. I had mulled it over for two days and concluded that it was fear. I was afraid that I wasn’t prepared to handle my grandmother’s death (although she wasn’t sick or anything), and angry that we might not have much time left together. My grandmother was 89. Nancy looked at me and said, “That’s not it. Keep talking.” So, I went on. Shortly after, I noticed Nancy’s quiet, blank stare. I stopped talking and said, “What?” I knew that look. It meant she had figured it out. “Sonja, you’re not afraid of your grandmother’s death. You’re afraid of your death.” I looked at her. With a furled upper lip and eyebrows furrowed I retorted, “I’m not dying!” She disagreed. “You are, and you’re not dealing with it.” The thoughts in my head were demanding, “Do you know something I don’t?!” She calmly stated, “Your motherhood is dying and you’re not acknowledging it, or dealing with it.”

And just like that, problem solved. The anger dissipated and the tears began to flow. And they flowed, and they continued to flow – for almost two months. I cried in the car. I cried myself to sleep. I cried in the morning as I prepared to go to work. I cried periodically throughout the day.

Our son was preparing to graduate from college and already had a great job lined up and our daughter was preparing to graduate high school and attend a great college. And I was extremely happy for them. William and I were seeing the fruits of our parenting. But, as Nancy explained, the transition is not so easy. Though I would always be their mother, the dynamic – our dynamic – was about to shift. I would no longer be a mother to children, but to adults. And that’s very different.

“That part of your motherhood is dying. You need to mourn it. Then, move on with life.” And we talked about how I was going to move forward.

I thank God for Nancy. If it hadn’t been for her help, I doubt I would have enjoyed our son’s and daughter’s graduations as much as I did (pure elation, zero sadness), or relished the beginning of their new lives. That’s because I dealt with what was going on with me. Someone shared a saying about change – “All change is loss, something akin to a mini death.” No matter how happy I was for our son and daughter, their graduations represented a loss. I would no longer be part of their school communities, which I really enjoyed, and they would no longer need me in the way they had before. And I had to mourn the loss.

Therapists and counselors help us resolve problems that we cannot solve for ourselves. A lot of people think they don’t need therapy. But that’s not so, as evidenced by: less than optimal family relationships; inability to engage in constructive communication (instead they don’t address the issues and pretend that “everything’s alright”); and a host of other things.

Here’s the thing, therapy isn’t easy. Having to look at ourselves, truly look at our self (having to admit that the way we think, communicate (or don’t), and/or behave aren’t conducive or effective and we need to change; looking at our childhood, our parents and how they impact us, etc.) can be extremely difficult, especially if we’ve been telling our selves that we have it all together. But know this, it’s worth the hard work. When we begin to peel back that thick skin which is actually layers of hurt, disappointment, fear etc. and begin to experience the soft, subtle new skin that’s hidden underneath, ahhhh, it’s a beautiful thing. And guess what, the difference is noticeable.

Unresolved problems DO NOT go away. Instead, they show up in our lives and relationships in different ways. Some of us are in our 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and yes, 80s and still have the same problems and personality hiccups as when we were in our teens and 20s. The problem(s) didn’t go away because we never got help; they continue to plague us. One example that most are familiar with – even if we don’t have this problem – is the phenomena of carrying past hurts into new relationships.

It’s also very important to note that conditions that we have no control over: poverty (not being able to meet basic needs for decent shelter, food, employment); loss of income and other forms of loss such as death, etc.; sexual assault and abuse (particularly during childhood and/or by a family member) can result in severe mental health challenges, if not properly addressed.

One of my dear friends, who happens to be a counselor, is quick to authoritatively say, “Do the work!” meaning seek out a therapist or counselor to help you work out your stuff (i.e., problems).

Here’s what we, as parents, need to understand – our problems affect our children’s social and emotional well-being, which can impact their social and academic performance.

We’ll end with a quote from another dear friend, “Therapy is for people who want to be their best self.”

If you want your child to be his/her best, be the example.

Next month we’ll discuss the importance of Partnership Parenting.


Relationships are critical to success whether academic, social, personal, or professional. Our sense of being – how we see and feel about ourselves – is dependent upon our relationships with others, with the parent/child bond being of primary importance during the most impressionable years of life, early childhood through the teen years.

A healthy and balanced parent/child relationship bolsters a child’s capacity for resilience. We touched on resilience factors in an earlier post. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after challenges or setbacks. Some of us are naturally resilient based on our temperament, which is genetic. Fortunately, resilience is a characteristic that can be taught and modeled – another reason to foster a healthy parent/child bond. In cases where the parent is not available (physically, emotionally) or incapacitated to the point that his/her involvement is negligible or a hindrance, it is paramount for another responsible adult (family member, mentor, etc.) to fulfill the role. Since the parent/child relationship is most important, we’ll direct our focus there and conclude by highlighting key dynamics of healthy relationships, in general.

I think parents will agree that parenting is the hardest and most rewarding job, bar none. It will also present some of the most trying times of your life. If your aim is success, it helps to be confident in your parenting ability. I mentioned before that D.W. Winnicott is my favorite theorist. In addition to true self/false self (see post titled Cultural Self), another concept is “good enough parenting”. Essentially, the “good enough parent” is adept at responding to the child’s needs. In infancy, the responses include love and attentiveness which mean the parent will meet the baby’s need for food, sleep, love, healing when sick, etc. As the child grows, her needs become more complex. The main points to remember about “good enough parenting” are: you don’t have to be perfect or even close to it in order to be a successful parent; however, you do need to be attuned and responsive to your child’s physical, emotional, psychological, and cultural needs. Simply providing for a child’s physical needs, e.g., food and shelter is not sufficient. That might be okay for animals, but not for humans. I emphasize this because I’ve heard parents discount culpability in their child’s negative outcomes with statements like, “I always made sure he had clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place to live.” That is inadequate if you’re raising a child to reach his full capabilities and capacity. If that’s your goal, you must attend to the emotional and psychological, also.

There is a body of research that links healthy parenting to optimal brain development. The research confirms higher brain function (in the amygdala and hippocampus) for children who receive supportive or good enough parenting. Another motivation to practice good enough parenting is reciprocity of the parent-child relationship. When the child is doing well, the parent is happy and the converse is also true; when the parent isn’t well, it negatively impacts the child. A healthy parent-child bond and good enough parenting (I’m using these interchangeably) are a win-win for both the parent and child.

Some of the more complex parent-child dynamics arise when the child in is the identity phase of development, the teen years. What the parent does up until that time and during can make all the difference between a great or miserable 6-7 years and in some cases, a lifetime of misery.

In earlier posts, we covered some components of good enough parenting. Let’s go over three now. One is affirmation which is part of a warm and nurturing relationship. You can’t affirm your child without nurture; the two go hand-in-hand (see post titled Confidence). Another that we touched on is expectations (see post titled Education). In addition to setting high expectations for academic achievement, parents must expect appropriate, responsible behavior in line with the child’s level of maturity. The parent should establish rules for behavior and hold the child accountable. Show resolve but don’t be harsh. Try not to discipline when you’re angry or frustrated. If you’re at the boiling point, take time out to calm down. If possible, wait 24 hours. Remember, we mete out disciplinary measures with the goal of correcting and teaching, not to hurt the child. The third is a big one, communication – and I don’t mean one-way communication where the parent is a dictator. A child should be able to talk to his parent about anything, and I mean ANYTHING. If your child doesn’t agree with you on some issue or situation, allow him space to respectfully express his opinion. These are opportunities for you to teach sound reasoning and decision-making. Listening and tolerating disagreement doesn’t mean you have to change your mind, but don’t be surprised if you do. There were times when my husband and I changed our minds because our children helped us see differently.

Be proactive in facilitating your child’s comfort with open, verbal expression by encouraging her to use words, starting at a very early age. When she’s crying ask why, even if you think you know the answer. Do the same when she’s laughing, angry, or sad. This is something that my dad did when I was growing up. Something would happen, and I would start crying. I vividly remember him saying, “Crying isn’t going to change it. When you finish crying, we’ll talk about it.” Let me tell you, I hated having to “talk about it” because that meant we had to explore the role I played, how I could have done something differently, and what I learned from the experience. Today, I am thankful that it wasn’t negotiable because I don’t have a problem talking things out or hearing constructive criticism. If you’re uncomfortable with communicating, and a lot of adults are, you may not be able to model open communication practices for your child. If you’re afraid of confrontation or have misaligned emotions (e.g., confuse hurt with anger and act out the anger rather than verbally expressing the hurt), it’s likely that your child will adopt these less than optimal ways of being (we’ll address this in next month’s post).

In terms of your child’s other relationships (with friends, family, etc.) make sure that they are healthy. You should know your child’s friends and their character. The adage “birds of feather flock together” is true. If your child’s friends are not on a path that leads to good, you need to intervene. Also, be careful about familial relationships because sometimes those connections are not in your child’s best interest. Some of the same tenets of a healthy parent-child bond are key ingredients for other healthy relationships: nurture and affirmation, good communication, and appropriate, responsible behavior (aligned with maturity).

Next month we’ll talk about realizing your best self through Therapy and Counseling.


For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:21

He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly. – James Allen

Parenting, in general, requires sacrifice. Purposeful parenting mandates intentional sacrifice. With purposeful parenting there is an end goal in mind. Whether it originates with the parent or the child, there is an end goal. Take sports for example. I know parents who have spent an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources on trainers, home equipment, competitions all over the country, etc. so their child could realize a dream of competing at the highest level. And for most, it paid off. Though the majority didn’t make it to the professional leagues, most got full scholarships to top college programs. The parents’ examples illustrate intentional sacrifice. They were responding to their children’s desires and goals to become top athletes. Their children’s successes were not haphazard. The two quotes above epitomize the parents’ efforts. They put their treasure (time, energy, resources) where their heart is (the child).

When I told my friend I was writing a blog series and shared with her some of my ideas, she insisted I write about sacrifice. She emphasized that parents need to understand the meaning exemplified in the James Allen quote (i.e., sacrifice a little and you will accomplish a little, sacrifice more and you’ll accomplish more, sacrifice greatly and your success will be great).

I’m reminded of a time when I bumped into the mom of our daughter’s former classmate. She knew our daughter had transferred to a private school. In remarking about the cost she said, “You could have bought a new car with that tuition.” Our heart isn’t a new car. In fact, we haven’t bought a “new” car since we’ve had children. Our heart is our children, so we put our treasure in them. And it requires many sacrifices, sacrifices we choose to make so that they can attain greatly. And guess what, God blesses it. We have not lived miserable lives because of our sacrifices. Quite the opposite, ours is a wonderful life.

If you have problems sacrificing for your child but not for other things, especially material things, then you might need to do some soul searching. Sometimes we make poor choices and bad decisions based on unhealthy experiences or behavior that was modeled for us. When trying to justify a decision not to sacrifice for a child, I’ve heard parents make statements like, “Well it was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for her”. That statement reduces the parent and the child. In those instances, “Good enough” isn’t good enough, not for your child, not for yourself, not for your family or your community. Relinquish small thinking. Decide to set a new trajectory for your child and family. Make the necessary sacrifices to give your child advantages and put her on the road to realizing her full capabilities. She’s worth it.

Vice President Joe Biden said at the Yale 2015 commencement, “[…] my dad’s definition of success is when you look at your son and daughter, and realize they turned out better than you […]”

Believe me, they’re worth it!

Next month’s topic is Relationships.

Advocate for Your Child

I am going to give you some alarming statistics. Brace yourself. From the National Education Association’s report, Race Against Time: Educating Black Boys:

  • Forty-two percent of Black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly.
  • Black and Hispanic males constitute almost 80 percent of youth in special education programs.
  • Black boys are 2.5 times less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs, even if their prior achievement reflects the ability to succeed.

And from the U.S. Department of Education Office on Civil Rights, Data Snapshot: School Discipline (March 2014):

  • Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity

If you’re a parent of a Black child and this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. At some point during my college years, I read about the deplorable educational outcomes for Black males once they enter third grade (outcomes shift for Black girls, too, but not as noticeably as for boys), which in large part was the impetus to over-educate our children from the toddler years to third grade. I made sure they performed at least two ages/grade levels ahead. While I am not suggesting that you be that intense, I do recommend that you develop a sense of urgency about advocating for your child, especially your African American son.

There has been a lot written in recent years about the feminization of the classroom and the negative impact on boys’ education. Around third grade, teaching styles shift and social behavior (playful, talking out of turn) becomes less preferable to a polite “be still and listen” demeanor more in line with how girls are socialized. Add racism to the equation and the classroom becomes a miserable place for Black boys, particularly low-income boys who may not have the opportunity to expend energy outside the classroom (because of unsafe living conditions, etc.), unlike boys who have the advantage of participating in organized sports or have access to yards and green spaces in their communities where they can run, play, etc.

Our son went to an all-boys school from fourth to twelfth grade. In the primary grades, teachers would end class whenever the “boy energy” reached its height; the teacher would simply stop teaching and send them outside. After they played and ran around for a while, the teacher would call them back in to either resume class or move on to the next class. The school recognized and accommodated the need to work out the energy so the boys could focus and learn.

Also, be mindful that children who are extremely bright often get bored and disengage. Instead of considering the possibility of boredom, a teacher may immediately assume that the child isn’t intelligent or lacks appropriate home supports (adequate food, sleep, etc.) that facilitate learning. This happened to our daughter in first grade. However, when the teacher started administering quizzes and tests, she realized that our daughter was at the top of the class. We chose to switch schools so that she could benefit from a challenging curriculum.

I’m assuming you’ve already read the Education – three E’s postings and that you are working with your son or daughter to ensure he/she is excelling in the classroom, or at least on the path. I’m also confident that you have established a good rapport with teacher(s) and are actively participating in your child’s school to the extent your schedule will allow.  Beyond that, you should question any and all occurrences that you feel may potentially undermine your child. For example, if your son is a top performer and a teacher puts a derogatory comment on his report card that suggests he has a behavior problem, you should challenge it immediately and insist that the comment be expunged from his record and a new report card issued (true story). As a rule, you should not allow any biased action towards your child to go unchecked. It is the parents’ job to remedy any and all problems with teachers and administrators so that your child doesn’t suffer in the long term. If an issue arises, document the alleged offense and request an immediate meeting to resolve it. Experience has taught me that the squeaky wheel gets oiled. Once individuals know that you absolutely will not permit them to mistreat or malign your child, they’ll stop doing it, if for no other reason than not wanting to answer to you.

Also, if you feel your child is not being adequately challenged or that he/she requires supportive services, request the teacher’s or school’s assistance in securing the necessary resources. If you believe that your child belongs in an accelerated course or program, ask about the protocol (e.g., testing, teacher recommendations) and follow through to ensure that the required process is underway and progressing towards a positive end. I encourage you to allow your child to witness your advocacy efforts on her behalf. Seeing you in action gives her a model to follow when she must advocate for herself. It also bolsters a child’s sense of self-worth when he knows that you will go to bat for him.

Next month’s topic is Sacrifice.

Education – Part 3

Now we will discuss the last, but not least, of the three E’s – Education. (Note: If you haven’t read the previous two posts, I recommend that you do in order to put the three E’s into context.) This post, Education, encompasses the traditional basics of education comprised of the three R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Have you heard the adage, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”? Well, as it relates to parenting, I like to swap the word “planning” for “preparation”. But do know this, if you neglect to prepare your child educationally it will constitute an emergency later on in life – for your family, the community, and society. So the adage becomes. “Lack of preparation on your part will constitute an emergency on my part.” Here are some statistics from the PBS School to Prison Pipeline series to help bring the point home:

  • 68% of all males in state and federal prison do not have a high school diploma
  • 40% of students expelled from U.S. schools each year are Black
  • 70% of students involved in “in-school” arrests or referred to law enforcement each year are Black or Latino
  • Black students are three and a half times more likely to be expelled from school than Whites
  • Black and Latino students are twice as likely to not graduate high school as Whites

And this one from The New York Times article about a study on the high rate of imprisonment among drop outs (October 8, 2009)

“About one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention, compared with one in 35 young male high school graduates.”

Here’s where I’m going with this – if your child is a good or top student, he is far less likely to be involved in activities that lead to prison and other destructive paths.

Children who are good students get all kinds of positive reinforcement from school (from teachers, administrators, coaches) community, and family which is an incentive to continue to do well. (Caveat – For those parents whose children are being ridiculed by their peers for being top students, you need to teach them how to stand up for themselves or better yet, if you can, move them to a school where achieving is held in high regard by faculty and students. In other words, put them in a school where there are other high achievers.)

A key component for educational success is a desire to be in the school environment. If your child hates school, she probably isn’t going to operate at a high level. There are various reasons why children dislike school. One reason is based on the epigenetic principle of development – if your child doesn’t master a basic concept, he/she is not going to be able to advance to the next level. Who wants to continue to go to school if it reminds them that they are inadequate or unsuccessful in the environment? The PARENTS’ JOB – Make sure that your child is adequately prepared to excel in school.

Below is a timeline of sorts that gives basic rubrics for how to achieve success from grades K-12. Before we get to that, there are two pieces that will facilitate your child’s success that we need to touch upon.

Establish a Routine. Children’s brains become “wired” for learning in infancy. What we do early on in their development impacts how the brain synapses will develop and whether they’ll make more (successful learning) or fewer connections. Establishing a routine or habit of teaching and developing your child from the start makes the process easier for you and easier for the child. If you read to your child at certain times of the day, he/she will come to expect and accept that reading is part of the routine. Also, having scheduled meal times, bed time, etc. helps the child understand and accept (particularly later on when school work and extracurricular activity are required) that there are times for play and times for work. Having a routine facilitates the learning process.

Establish a partnership with teachers. Get to know your child’s teacher well and establish a good rapport from the outset. Make sure that the teacher knows that you are committed to your child’s education and that you can be counted on to hold your child to the highest standards for academic achievement. If problems arise, try to resolve them promptly and in concert with the teacher, counselor, and/or administrator. Be proactive with your child’s education, not reactive. Get involved in the life of the school (PTSA, fundraisers, etc.). If work or other demands make it impossible for you to be involved, it is critical that you maintain communication with the teacher through regularly scheduled visits, phone calls, or email/other written communication.

If your child is in an underperforming school, request a meeting with the principal with the goal of learning about plans and efforts towards improving the school and a timeline for implementing changes. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, talk to other parents and invite them to join with you in advocating for school improvement. Talk to your child’s teachers and let them know that you and other concerned parents are taking steps to improve the school (curriculum, facilities, etc.). Teachers can give you valuable insight and information that may help further your cause as you seek to inform and enlist influential allies (community leaders, school board members, and other elected officials) who can help accomplish your goal.

Facilitating learning at different stages (make adjustments based on your child’s development)

Infancy            Hold, love, and talk to your child (lifelong). It’s never too early to begin reading to him/her.

Ages 1-3          In addition to age-appropriate play/learning games (blocks) etc., read to her/him; sing alphabet songs; introduce letters, numbers and colors.

Ages 4-5          Teach reading/writing using phonics and site words.

Ages 5-7          Mastery of addition and subtraction (ones, tens, and hundreds)

The summer before third grade, introduce multiplication (explain that it’s simply fast addition) and help your child memorize multiplication facts.

Mastery of all the above by third grade means your child is well on her/his way to academic success. Basic reading, writing, and math are the foundation for all higher level academic pursuits. If your child does not have a solid foundation (i.e., mastery), he/she will likely struggle. Conversely, if he has a solid foundation all subsequent learning will be relatively easy.

Every summer throughout their K-12 education, your child should read at least three books. Let her choose the reading selections with your guidance and approval. Summer enrichment programs are great opportunities for academic reinforcement and to meet friends and families who are on the same academic path.

To help your child transition from the summer lull and back into the routine of homework and study, a month before school opens he should spend an hour a day (you can divide the time depending on age) reviewing the core subject lessons from the previous year. Search for websites that offer subject matter workbooks and worksheets for downloading, printing, and online learning activities. A few are below.

Next month we’ll delve into why and how you should Advocate for Your Child.




Education – Part 2

This is a three-part post about re-envisioning the basis for education where we add to the foundation basics of the three R’s a more comprehensive model of education encompassed in the three E’s: expectations, exposure, and education. In last month’s post, we addressed the importance of having high expectations. Now we will look at how exposure contributes to the educational and overall development of our children.

When our experiences and consequently our child’s experiences don’t go beyond the familiar, we limit ourselves. This includes our ability to think critically which impacts our capacity to receive and interpret information. Overwhelmingly, our shared experiences are with people who are like us (family, friends, colleagues). We live lives that don’t allow intimate experiences with people and environments that are dissimilar to ours (culturally, socially, economically, educationally). Consequently, we don’t have an understanding of the dynamics that result in situations and circumstances that are different from ours. Lack of understanding creates misunderstanding, misjudgment, and results in ignorance. Therefore, we MUST be intentional about broadening our children’s exposure – and our own for that matter. Essentially, we must go beyond the familiar.

Think of exposure in two veins – 1) what can I teach my child? and 2) what can my child and I learn together?

Exposing children to new ideas doesn’t have to be burdensome. When going through your everyday routine, share with your child the meaning of daily activities; that’s a form of exposure. For the young child, let him help prepare meals and assist in household chores. As you ask your son/daughter to hand you a spoon and show him/her how to fold a napkin, discuss the uses for both. Tell them why you’re using a spoon as opposed to a fork or knife. Tell them why we place the napkin in our laps when we eat. All the while, you’re introducing new knowledge. Pretty simple, right? When you’re walking to and fro (including to the car or bus stop), talk about the trees, flowers, bees, rain, and sun. Talk about their colors, their function, their beauty, and why getting stung by a bee hurts. This kind of interaction introduces new concepts, vocabulary, and thinking skills because they’re making connections and beginning to understand their environment. When you get on the bus or in the car, talk about different modes of transportation and different reasons why we may use public transportation as opposed to a private vehicle. On the way to a doctor’s visit or the grocery store, talk about the job functions (what doctors, cashiers, customer service personnel do) and how these people help us live and make our lives easier. Similarly, when you encounter an emergency vehicle discuss the role of firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians etc. You get where I’m going, right? You’re introducing new information, encouraging your child to be inquisitive (i.e., to seek out new information) and observant of his/her environment, and helping him/her understand connections and make meaning of relationships within the environment which is a foundation for critical thinking.

There are also opportunities for you and your child to expand your sphere of knowledge together, particularly as it relates to cultural exploration. If you live in an area where museums are free (e.g., Washington, DC or St. Louis area), you should take advantage of these learning opportunities. Additionally, when you take vacations or local trips outside of your neighborhood (to the next town, city, or state), look up facts about the destination beforehand in order to learn about the cultural significance of the area. Always be mindful to look up facts and history about African American culture, as this is a chance to learn more about the important roles that we had/have in the development of our society.

In the spirit of the three E’s, never tell your child that you don’t know the answer to a question. Instead, say, “let me look that up” or “I’ll have to do some research to find out”. Here’s the thing, just about everyone has a smart phone which means you have information at your fingertips. Therefore, there is no excuse for not knowing. Be resourceful and model behavior that will help your child be successful in life. If there’s something she needs to know, she should seek out the information by asking someone who knows or doing research to find the answer. Lastly, take your child to a public library every so often if for no other reason than to surround them with books (i.e., information, knowledge). Make sure he/she has a library card and teach him/her that the public library is a source of free information.

We’ll talk more about the importance of reading in next month’s post when we cover the last of the three E’s, Education.