Parenting with Love, Limits & Lessons

12/18/2009: I met my son for the first time.  He was 3 1/2 years old and I was going in entirely blind to his life experiences, previous discipline, capabilities…everything.  Now that I have a nearly 3 1/2 year old daughter whom I’ve raised since infancy, I realize how much of a lifetime I had missed.  The devastation she would feel if she were plucked up tomorrow and dropped at a new doorstep makes my head spin.  And yet? He showed up with a smile.  Amazing.

Christmas '09 017

12/21/2009: I wrote, “Well, we are about 4 days into our first placement and its going so much better than expected (I totally just jinxed myself).  We prepared ourselves for the worst but have been pleasantly surprised with age-appropriate, generally pleasant behavior!”  HA. Foolish, foolish woman…

12/30/2009: Reality sets in.  My ears are bleeding from all the whining.  Tantrums are an hourly occurrence.  Every moment is a battle.

01/04/2010:  We are trapped in our house.  The fits he throws the second we enter a public space are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It’s become a safety concern (just ask my black eye) and we’ve decided we won’t be taking him out for a while.  I’m suffocating and scared.

1/11/2010:  After barely managing to schlep myself to work, a coworker cheerily asked me how my weekend was.  I stared at her blankly for a moment wondering how the answer wasn’t already written all over my baggy-eyed face before answering with “Well, I survived”.

1/25/2010:  We tried to visit family today but cut the visit short when we started to worry about the screaming bothering the neighbors.  Well-intentioned family member just shakes her head in disbelief saying, “I had no idea it was this bad.”  As the tears well up in my eyes I respond, “This is a good day.”  We go back home, exhausted and alone.

2/14/2010:  Our first Valentine’s Day as a family.  We push through with heart-shaped pancakes, pink milk, and a walk to the park.  I had planned to surprise my wife with a nice dinner after we got the kids to bed (if we got the kids to bed), but she turned in early after a particularly hateful barrage of words from him.  He’s been doing this a lot lately and she is his favorite target.  So instead I hold her in our bed and we both cry.

2/16/2010: I write, “As a parent, there is a lot I don’t know.  I don’t know much of his history.  I don’t know what their future will hold.  I don’t know the dark demons that live in my little boy’s heart.  I don’t always know the best way to respond to behavior challenges.  I don’t know if I say the right things or if I do the right things.   Hell, I don’t even know how long I’ll be able to call myself a parent. But, what I do know is that my love is stronger than his anger.  And that’s all I need to know to get up tomorrow and do it all again.”

3/11/2010: His mom has been missing a lot of visits lately and that has thrown him into even more of a tailspin than usual.  I’m his new target and he has found my Achilles heel: peeing.purposely.on.everything.  Nothing gets my blood boiling more than this disgusting new habit.  I can’t take it for one more second.

3/12/2010: During a rage he screamed at me in his angriest voice: “I LOVE YOU!!”  And then I’m reminded.  He’s mad that he loves me.  He doesn’t want to have foster moms.  He doesn’t want to continually fall in love with caregivers just to be ripped away.  He wants to love his mom and have her love him back.  I still have no fucking clue what I’m doing, but I get it.

4/4/2010: Easter.  Our first day in nearly 4 months without a fit/rage/crying/peeing/major incident of any kind.  I feel a crack in my cloak of self-doubt.  You know what?  I think we can do this.  Of course, I’ve been saying that incessantly this whole time, but today my heart starts to believe it.

Easter '10 078

4/16/2010: For the first time, I attend a support group meeting for foster parents because, shit, I need something.  Just so happens a woman is there to give us a presentation on a parenting and discipline strategy called Cooperative Kids  based on the book Love, Limits & Lessons by Bill Corbett.  I quickly googled it to see if it would be worth my time to stay.  At this point I feel like I’ve read just about every parenting book out there, but something about this one caught my attention.  I liked the fact that the love came first.  In so many of those other books (including others with ‘love’ in the title), discipline is the primary goal and love the second, but that wasn’t going to work for me…not for this kid.  Amidst the sea of all that I didn’t know, I always knew that love and attachment trumped all.  There would be no healing, controlling, or disciplining until this child trusted me and was filled to the brim with love.  I bought the book and read it cover to cover in one night.  The next day I started implementing its strategies and I haven’t looked back since.

6/18/2010:  We celebrate 6 months as a family.  We have made it through the darkness.  There are still struggles and temper tantrums, but life has become manageable again.  In fact, we took our first family vacation and knowing where he had been 5 months earlier, I am so proud of my son.  I enjoyed him and his company and that brought me tears of relief.

Ptown 2010 259

7/26/2010: In an email to a friend: “And that’s when it occurred to me that I’m not parenting the same boy I was 6 months ago.  The pendulum has swung and the good far far outweighs the bad.  Man, I love that kid.”

8/23/2010:  He and I were winding down in a snuggle on the couch.  He got quiet and furrowed his brow when he asked, “Do you like being my mommy?” I couldn’t answer right away because his words had taken my breath.  Instead I kissed him on his forehead and breathed in the smell of his freshly washed hair.

“I like it more than anything else in the world.  Being your mommy is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“Do you like it more than chocolate ice cream?”

“Way more.”

9/12/2010: Epic meltdown at church moments before we were supposed to head to a picnic complete with running wildly into oncoming traffic.  This is the part of the roller coaster ride that I find particularly intolerable.  The fact that we’ve gone months without a public tantrum, then all of a sudden, here it is again.  It feels like such a lack of progress – it feels like such a failure.  I really wanted to go to that picnic.

11/26/2010: We welcome our third child.  A complete shock and surprise to everyone leaving my son the same 2 hours to prepare as the rest of us.  He is incredible.  Happy, unthreatened, and loving.  These girls won the big brother jackpot.

Mehahlea 077

6/6/2011: We’re all hanging out at the playground, swinging high and happily chatting, when my wife asked, “How did we get such a sweet boy?”  He answered matter-of-factly as if we asked him the color of the sky: “You teached me.”

2/21/2013: My son is incredible.  He is happy, thriving, and never stops talking.  He is kind, respectful, cooperative, and has a noticeable appreciation for the boundaries and consequences present in his life.  He’s also a high-energy emotional kid who struggles at time with keeping a quiet body, listening ears, and calm expression of feelings.  In sum? He’s an awesomely typical 6 year old boy.  I love him so much, but even more, I really like him.  There were times I feared never being able to say that.


Of course time, maturity, and healing had a lot to do with his growth and success, but I also give a lot of credit to finding a plan that worked in Love, Limits & Lessons.  It was here that I learned that the tantrums and misbehavior are his, not mine. I don’t own them. I’m not burdened by them – he is.  This relates to one of my primary parenting rules: I can’t control my child, nor do I want to.  The only person I can control is this world is me.  My job is to guide and to teach, but he is his own individual spirit in control of his body and mind.  There is no power struggle because I freely give him all the power he needs and deserves – but that also means he gets the responsibility of his actions.  How freeing that philosophy is.  Also, disengaging myself from the hate and negativity made it that much easier for the love to flow in.

So, naturally, whenever I’m asked for a recommendation on a parenting book, this is my go-to.  It’s a quick read, funny and real.  Along with the broader philosophical discussions, it offers concrete solutions for common problems.  It provided me with an effective parenting voice that felt comfortable and nurturing.

Now here’s the really exciting news…I’ve connected with the Connecticut-based author and one week from today, you’ll have the opportunity to win a copy of the book to check out for yourself!  Not only that, but Bill Corbett has agreed to field some parenting questions from our CT Working Moms audience!

What is your biggest struggle right now?  Need advice on meal times, bed times, homework, dating?? This is your opportunity to get some advice from a fantastic parenting expert!  Leave your question in the comments below and check back next Thursday for a great parenting discussion and giveaway!


32 thoughts on “Parenting with Love, Limits & Lessons

  1. Lovely as always!

    I have a question for Bill, we have a 2.5 year old special needs child, yet to be diagnosed, that we are adopting and I struggle with her behavior a lot. Background: She came to us at 18 months, nonverbal, completely disengaged, avoiding all stimulation, history of neglect and possible abuse. She has blossomed with lots of therapy over the last 14 months and is essentially a normal toddler these days.

    We are currently doing PCIT/PCAT once a week and she has a teacher come to our home twice a week, during those appointments she is bright, playful, appropriately verbal, attention seeking, silly, basically a typical 2 year old… When we don’t have a teacher or therapist here she is quiet, her play is rudimentary and distracted, she doesn’t act silly or seek attention, and she behaves like she can’t do things she normally does easily (use words, put clothes on/take them off, eat, etc.). I’ve attributed this difference to her needing the one on one attention but having three other children (9, 5, and 1), I can’t give her that kind of attention 100% of the time. I’ve scheduled times each day where she and I are alone doing stimulating activities, she thrives then but goes back to her quiet self as soon as my attention has to be shared.

    What more can I do for her?


  2. Elise – what a beautiful entry! The progression of photo’s really paints the picture of how your love changed your little boy. What wonderful people you and your wife are – to stay the course and parent with complete love. Your children will benefit from your limits, compassion and unconditional love. I love reading your posts. All the best to your family.


    1. Thank you so much! It was really special for me to notice the change in the pictures too…a brighter smile, more twinkle in the eye, it’s the little things 🙂


  3. Thank you for sharing this amazing story Elise. It was inspiring and very heart-warming. Parenting is never easy but you do it so beautifully. This is exactly what I needed to read and I am very glad to have found your post. Thank you so much and I am excited to read your next posts. 🙂


  4. This was FANTASTIC. Thank you so much for sharing this! I haven’t read Love, Limits and Lessons (my “parenting bible” has been How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen”) but I am SO reading it now! I’ve found that my boys are 100% different from each other…which means all the things I thought I’d figured out with #1 do not apply at all with #2. It’s like I’m starting over in a lot of ways! Ugh. So definitely in need of a new book!! 🙂


  5. This was amazing. Thank you for sharing.
    I had a very, very difficult first born. From birth, he was so hard. He still can be very trying but all of the moments when he pushed our sanity to the limits are quickly forgotten but a little “mommy, I love you!”
    Each child is different, especially when they’ve had some life experiences before they’ve come to you. You are a wonderful family and he is a wonderful little boy!


  6. The name of your book (and subsequent Oscar-winning movie) should be “You Teached Me.” That anecdote was so profound and so moving. Every picture of that adorable child shows that how happy he is to have been given the chance to thrive and be loved.

    I try not to fault birth parents of kids who have been removed from their custody, because I have learned that one cannot give what one has never been given, and also that parenting is REALLY HARD. I guess I would rather think of the whole situation as a continuum — a challenging process that ultimately brought those little guys to their Destiny Parents.

    I agree with Cora about the grace with which you parent. That’s the word, exactly. Fabulous post, AS USUAL!


    1. Thank you so much. My wife and I often say, “If only we could have fostered bio mom…” So sad the way these cycles continue. But, these will be 3 less.

      Your movie comment made my day…little did you know, I’m a huge film nut! My countdown is on to the Oscars and I’ve got my picks in hand 🙂


  7. You never cease to amaze me with the grace of your parenting. We too have embraced the love and logic model and it helps tremendously. Right now we’re venturing into 2yo behavior and I’m having a hard time determining the trigger for the behavior.


  8. This is wonderful! A definite reminder that a child’s tantrums and outbursts are not ours to control, but an expression of what they are feeling and experiencing. You are both wonderful parents and lucky kids!


  9. I just love this. Your son is as lucky to have found you, as you are to have found him. Every challenge reinforces the pathway in your journey. You are a wonderful role model and an inspiration.


  10. Oh Elise, what a journey. It always amazes me. I will definitely be entering that giveaway. Gwen is a smart, sweet, loving, exacerbating 3 year old. She loves to push, push, push just a little more. But we’re handling with loving boundaries as best we can.


    1. Okay, I thought of my situations I need help with. 1) Whining. I’ve tried telling her I can’t understand her when she uses that voice and she always repeats it nicer, but we can’t seem to get rid of the initial whine. 2) How to keep my cool and not yell! I hate yelling, but there are times when I cannot seem to get her to listen to me otherwise. So listening, without the yelling.


  11. Elise that was beautiful. I must admit that I cried. I’ve been down the temper tantrum road and am proud to say we’ve survived. My son is now a wonderful, confident, loving 18 year old…dare I say it?….Man (Well, Man-Boy if you ask me). Love, understanding, support and patience are key and it sounds like you’ve got them all! I agree, above all Love must come first but understanding the reasons for the behavior makes a huge difference. The additional challenge you faced is the fact that when you started to find it difficult you could have backed out and said “no way can I keep this kid”. How wonderful for your family that you chose to fight the good fight and give him a chance. How wonderful that realization hit you when it did and that you strived to understand your son’s needs now that you knew them and gave him the love that he needed in the way that he needed it. Your reward is a wonderful little boy that you will raise to be a wonderful man someday!


    1. What a sweet comment, thank you. We’ve absolutely reaped the most amazing reward – I can’t wait to see all that he becomes! (okay, i can wait, but you know what i mean 😉 )


  12. Thanks so much for this Elise! I just bought this book, as we are struggling a bit with our “old soul” son. He has always been sensitive and full of emotion (see my posts), but lately I feel like some of these feelings are bubbling over and turning into outbursts (and not always very nice ones). I don’t have any specific questions except that if Bill would like to do a special CT Working Moms parenting class! 🙂


  13. Great post Elise! I love coming here to read your posts and get your recommendations. Every one of them has ended positively when I have follow them/purchased/ used.

    My current struggle is how to foster the growth of my toddler who desires independence yet guidance, has leadership/head strong characteristics yet still so much to she isnt capable of while teaching the manners, skills, and loving kindness I know she needs to master. It’s a constant battle.


  14. Elise, great post! Your son (and daughters) are very lucky to have you in their lives. They really lucked out in getting such a patient and all around wonderful mom – I’m sure you think YOU are the lucky one.
    My daughter is 11 so I’m dealing with getting homework and chores done in a timely manner. Also cell phones/social media/Internet – how can one give them some freedom yet make sure they understand how important it is to think before texting/posting something. Another issue is my daughter got bad acne early (2nd grade!!) and now she is dealing (still) with being picked on about that in addition to trying to handle the start of puberty, any tips on making things easier? Making sure she knows she can talk to me about anything & everything?


  15. Elise, what a beautiful, heartfelt post. I love the idea of always leading with love when dealing with parenting struggles. I’m trying to do the same thing. Thank you for sharing this with everyone. You are a wonderful person and terrific mama.


  16. Elise,

    I look forward to your posts because as the mom of a daughter (finally) adopted through DCF, I can relate to so much of what you have to say. Your post today brought tears to my eyes a couple of times.

    I mainly want to comment on your very first point about not knowing anything about the first part of his life. My daughter was three when she came to live with us, and we are pretty clueless about most of that time. It is so very strange to not have any baby pictures of her, to not be able to tell her when she took her first step, what her first food was, her first words, etc. Her biological mother has some pictures posted on facebook of her when she was younger, and I find it very annoying that someone else has a claim on those years. Because she was barely verbal when she came to us, she couldn’t really talk very much about it. Now that she is 5, I wonder how much she remembers. My son, who is now 8, doesn’t seem to remember much past the last couple of years. I know that I don’t remember much about my early childhood.

    It’s just a very odd and unique situation as a parent, even as an adoptive parent given how many adoptions are of infants.


    1. It’s true…even in the adoption community, adoption of an older child is a less common path. So many complicated emotions and issues! Thanks so much for reading!


  17. This post is beautiful, Elise. Really beautiful. You are just as lucky to have found your son as he is to have found you. I learn something about love and acceptance and patience every time I read anything you write about your story or your parenting philosophies. I’ve seen you recommend this book before and it’s been on my online wish list for awhile now, but I just moved it to my shopping cart. I can’t think of anything in particular that I need to ask Bill Corbett but I think it’s awesome that you reached out to him and more awesome that he agreed.


  18. Really beautiful post today Elise. You and your wife really are fantastic loving parents and what you’ve done for these children is lifesaving…for all of you I’m sure.


  19. Nearly in tears as I sit in Panera desperately trying to do work through the absolute exhaustion that is my life these days. 4-year-old, 8-month-old and chronically ill husband. We found out he was sick after we moved half-way across the country and when I was 5 months pregnant. We promptly moved ourselves back to CT (less than 10 months after we moved away) and my 4-year-old has been an emotional, and crabby mess throughout it all. I LOVE HIM more than words can say, and I do find myself telling my husband how much I like him but I am exhausted and have no idea how to handle the extreme emotions and tantrums. We have tried a child psychologist with little to no help. She wants us to use a reinforcement chart for taking deep breaths when he is upset but all he does is practice them so he can get a sticker and gets FURIOUS if we mention deep breaths when he is mad. Any thoughts or advice on how to negotiate helping an emotionally distressed preschooler when you yourself are feeling equally as emotionally distressed would be welcomed and appreciated! At this point I would be willing to read and try anything!


    1. Gosh Becky, what a tough situation. My heart goes out to you. I will absolutely pass your question along and in the meantime I hope you find a few moments to take care of yourself. I can’t even imagine how difficult things are for you, but I do believe that in the end your love will see your children through.


  20. Beautiful post, Elise! I would love a copy of that book. Right now I’m struggling with my 3 year old tantrums (like kicking me when I strap her into her car seat), keeping my monkey of a 2 year old from climbing everything (both safety concerns as we’ll as a listening issue) and the never ending battle of sharing 🙂


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