Tough talks about relationships

One of the changes we wanted to make with Science of Parenting was the idea of being able to talk to children about tough topics – especially around relationships. At times we struggle just talking to other adults about tough relationship topics (ie. divorce, co-parenting, broken relationships), so might we be able to say that it is ‘normal’ to struggle with talking with children about tough relationship topics?

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our resources in “Parenting in Challenging Moments” I would encourage you to do so. Parenting isn’t easy and THAT is the reality. Divorce, co-parenting and broken relationships aren’t easy either but we do need to take the time to talk with children about them.

Our hope is that the resources available here may help you start a conversation as you work through the difficulties.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

More Posts


Teenagers… Wait, what was your reaction when you read that word? Maybe an eye roll, a sigh, or perhaps a smile? Each of us have a different experience with raising teenagers – some parents think it is the most fun age during their parenting journey while others dread it. Some of us may even fall into the tendency to paint a mental picture of the teenage years filled with back talk, conversations about curfews, and loud music behind closed doors. But there is a flip side to that coin – seeing your teenager live out their values, getting the opportunity to watch them achieve and excel in their passions, and having meaningful and heartfelt conversations.

Regardless of which way you tend to view the teenage years, most of us who have raised teenagers know that these are the years when friends become a really BIG DEAL, right? Teens care what their classmates think about their looks and what they say and do. And as parents, you watch them grow closer and closer to friends, and it might feel like they are slipping away from you. But great news – they’re not. Sure, your teen is probably growing stronger relationships with their friends, but adolescents (a.k.a. teenagers) still care a lot about their parents and what they think! So don’t lose heart – your teen does hear what you say, and your opinion matters to them!

So continue to communicate your values to your teenager, even if you think you already have or if they give you the “I know this already” look. Sometimes the teen years bring their own challenges, but so does every age (I gotta say, I bet your teenager doesn’t cry while you cook supper like my toddler does, so that’s a plus J). Remember that while you are going to have some challenging moments here and there, you are also going to have some pretty amazing ones too.

Do you have more questions about navigating challenging parenting moments with your teenager? Check out the Parenting in Challenging Moments page on our Science of Parenting website. You can find resources for parenting a child of any age under the Guidance by Age section.

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

More Posts

Follow Me:

They Grow on You Over Time

I grew up in a family with an older sister and two younger brothers. We were pretty typical – playing and fighting our ways through the days. Eventually we all launched into the world as adults. We reconnected occasionally at the parental home as happens in most families. First our father died and then our mother. We were truly on our own and that sentiment is echoed by Katherine Conger, family sociologist at the University of California, Davis. She says that spouses come along later in our lives and parents eventually leave us. Siblings are with us for the whole journey.

I’ve watched other families after the death of the last parent. Sometimes a family grows apart without the common denominator of a parent and family home. In our case we  forged stronger links. The connections are powerful as we no longer try to compete or change each other. We focus on what we have in common instead of our differences. This is consistent with findings that the shared early childhood experiences cast a long shadow.

All this can be comforting to parents as they referee endless arguments with their children. Some day those children may come together as good friends. It is also a reminder that it is not too late to reconnect with your own siblings. Conflicts and disagreements can be forgotten (and forgiven) and replaced by the support of those who were there from the beginning.

Have you experienced the death of one or more parents? If so, how has the relationship with your siblings changed?


Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

More Posts

Empty Nest

When I read Donna’s “Niagra Falls” post, it reminded me of the day my parents dropped me off at college.  I am the youngest in the family, and the only girl.  For both my parents, they admittedly found it hardest to let go of their “last” child, and to leave a girl alone on a college campus surrounded by college boys.

Unlike Donna, my parents’ tears were not finished when they got to the car.  It took them the better part of a year to navigate being “empty nesters.”   There were a lot of individual adjustments to make as relationships changed.  If you’re in the same boat, know that there are a few things you can do to help yourself adjust.

  • Recognize that parenthood is an evolution.  It changes constantly, but it never goes away.  Your new parenting role involves helping your child make big decisions about things like careers and significant others.  You don’t stop being a parents, you just change phases.
  • Don’t focus on the fact that your child is moving away.  Focus on the fact that your child is moving toward his or her own life.  Be proud that as a parent, you contributed to all this growth!
  • Fall in love all over again.  If you have a significant other, one large adjustment in the empty nest phase can be getting used to being “just the two of you” again.  View this as a time to rediscover each other.  Go on a date, take the time to hear about each other’s days, or just enjoy watching the six o’clock news uninterrupted!
  • Get involved.  If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs now that your kiddos are all gone, consider doing something you’ve always wanted to do.  Take up a hobby, volunteer your time, or even get that storage room in the basement sorted out.  Do something that will make you feel good about the way you’re spending your extra time.

Are there any empty nesters out there with advice of their own? – Molly Luchtel

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

More Posts