Archive for July, 2009

Best Advice From Family Is Simplest

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Parents today have a multitude of resources at their fingertips – books, magazines, podcasts, websites, DVDs, and family counselors.  But sometimes, the best advice is the simplest.  Here’s a sampling of the simplest and the best advice I’ve ever gotten from members of my family.

Work Ethic – Show Up On Time and Be Neat

My dad’s a farmer, so work clothes are pretty basic most of the time.  I worked for him as a teen spraying weeds from atop a long bar attached to the front of a small tractor.  We mostly had family members riding the bean bar, but occasionally another local kid got to ride for a few days.

It was then that Dad had a conversation about work ethic with these two elements – show up on time and be neat.  I sometimes forgot that Dad worked in Washington D.C. at a desk job for a while, also spent plenty of time in college around professors.  He couldn’t understand why kids, even for the bean bar job, would show up late or with unkempt scraggly hair.  Being late or physically unprepared showed a lack of respect.  He didn’t wear a tie to work, but he sure taught me how disgusted employers are when workers don’t take their job or appearance seriously.

Always Have A Little Color On Your Lips

Mom always has some lipstick around in her purse no matter where she’s going.  She’s not vain, just fair skinned.  I sometimes thought that got a little too fussy.  I mean, who cares at the small town grocery store anyway?  Plus, I tan easily – is it really worth it to bother having that on me at all times?

Welcome to the thirties decade of my life – practically zero lip color.  While I still do tan somewhat easily, I can see that my mom didn’t just use lipstick to offset her freckles and fair skin.  I look like a ghost if I don’t have just a smidge of color added to my lips.  Even worse, I look like I just don’t give a damn about me or …

Sibling Conflicts – Break Them Up or Let Kids Argue?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

If your kids have been around each other for more than five minutes, chances are you’re going to hear some sort of disagreement between them soon.  Yes you did, No I didn’t, I had it first, If you do that one more time I’ll tell.  On and on and on.  It can give a parent a headache in a hurry.  So is it better for you to break it up  or let them hash it out themselves?

Breaking it up will probably make you feel more in control of the situation, at least for a while.  You may temporarily silence the squeaky wheels, but the underlying issue might remain.  The message you give is just to be quiet, not necessarily to get along.

Letting your kids hash out their differences is another option.  The main unfortunate side effect is that it may take a long while for the noise to settle down.  You might not be able to take the screaming, name calling, and physical scraping along the way.

These two solutions may sound OK at first, but they have some flaws.  Instead, I offer a combination of these two choices.  First, breaking up an argument can be most helpful when it’s done early, before any physical aggression or name calling and when everyone might still listen to you for a second.  To encourage problem solving, don’t just leave them with a big “Shhh!”  Instead, tell them that it’s perfectly fine for them to disagree but just with quieter voices, please.  Also, it’s important to break something up if you hear it escalating past the disagreement.  When you hear name calling, mean words, or physical fighting, there’s no solution being created.

If you find yourself breaking up a lot of fights, you may need to coach your kids more directly on solving problems together.  Be a mediator and collaborator so that you can help them find the words to communicate what they want without leading to aggression or mean comments.  Once you see them taking your lead, let them progress with it and praise them for good work done.  …

Death – Losing A Piece Of Your Family Picture

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Families are dynamic beings.  New babies signify the addition of another generation.  Death makes holes in the family.  Whether young or old, a family member dying makes everything different.  Every holiday, every
visit, every “how’s life going?” email, every season change.  Human beings tend to take big changes pretty hard, especially when you didn’t want it in the first place.

Just this weekend I lost a member of my extended family.  It’s over long distance, but that doesn’t make the pain any less real.  In fact, I began to reflect on how this grieving process will be somewhat awkward.  It’s unlikely that I’ll be going to the memorial service.  Too many days away and the expense are checks against me.  I was able to do it for my grandfather, but I’m not sure it’s in the cards now.  Although a service doesn’t necessarily make all the difference, I know it would be an opportunity for me to be with family members that I don’t see often.  At home, it will seem like it’s just any other day.  We’ll have to do something personal here while the rest of the family is at the main event.

I’ve also found that I’ve been grieving each of the important deaths in my life just a little bit.  My mind wandered to my grandpa’s memorial service, my one grandmother that died the day after my wedding (couldn’t go to the service), my other grandmother who died while I was pregnant, an influential and beloved teacher who died of cancer, my husband’s grandparents, and my cousin who died from an ATV accident.

I’ve recalled the various circumstances where I learned of their death, the funeral or my lack of ability to attend, how I felt after each death, my longing to have a chance to see them again just once.  This didn’t take over my weekend or overwhelm me to the point that I couldn’t do my normal things.  I think this is just a part of my grieving process.  I think I’ve done OK dealing with these other losses in their time, but …

Angry At Mental Health and Addiction Problems

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

OK, can I just stand up and be angry here for a minute?  Usually I bring up a personal anecdote or focus on a certain mental health topic relevant for families.  Today I’m just angry, angry at how mental illness and addiction bring pain into the lives of so many families today.

Obviously, mental health and addiction problems can be well managed for many years, bringing much needed stability in a person’s life.  But too often, they go untreated or poorly treated.  This leads to generations of people dealt a difficult hand, sometimes before they are even born.

I’m ticked that addiction makes people bad spouses and parents.  Impulse control and judgment are big problems for drug addicts and alcoholism.  Not only do they deal with the impulse to do drugs or drink, but they may have other impulses that aren’t managed well.  Sex, spending money, aggression, leaving spontaneously –  untreated addiction makes a person much more likely to shirk their parental and family duties.  They also have great difficult taking responsibility for any hurtful behavior, time spent being drunk or high, moodiness, unreliability, etc.

I’m mad that all forms of depression and bipolar disorder rob kids of stable parents.  It makes people lousy at being in nearly any kind of relationship.  They can’t be counted on, they take risks, they might kill
themselves, and they sometimes make really stupid decisions.  Bipolar also drives sexual intest up while simultaneously making them a difficult spouse or partner and a really unreliable parent.

I’m furious that excessive anxiety locks people up like prisoners.  Sometimes, they literally have trouble leaving their house or staying overnight anywhere.  They cause people to lock their mind and emotion together in endless circles of worry and shame.  They withdraw and close their world in smaller and smaller so they won’t get hurt.  But this usually serves to cause more pain because they start losing the very things and people that they need to feel better.

My main beef with mental health and addiction problems is that they make people blind to what’s healthy and good.  I mean, this doesn’t necessarily …

Parenting At Your Wits End

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Yesterday was the cumulation of too many expectations, errands that took too long, and kids with a need to scream.  I’m telling you what, if there’s one thing that pushes me toward my wits end, it’s the kids screaming at each other to get their way.

Unfortunately, my patience had already run out by early afternoon and I was then somehow incapable of putting a stop to it.  The problem was that I waited too long to do anything useful about it.  I had thought my
warnings were sufficient enough to make them realize I would “eventually” do something about it.  For the time being, I was just getting everyone through their paces in the morning so we could do stuff in the afternoon.

I was too focused on reaching my goals to realize that I was passing by opportunities to get my message through.  Had I been able to hover over myself while this was all transpiring, I could have seen the chance to intervene after the first scream.  I could have offered them something of value before going and allow the pressure of managing themselves help me get through the afternoon.

Instead of all these wise things, I allowed my emotions to do the parenting.  Not a great thing, by the way.  We didn’t cause any scenes and they were actually pretty good while we were out.  But I had allowed the morning to get away from me because I was way too goal oriented.  I had put all my mental well being eggs in one basket completion of my goals.  Had I forgotten that keeping the kids well-managed and happy would only help me out??  Apparently so.  I was in do-or-die mode.

Long story short, I didn’t sleep well last night because I was still emotionally reeling from the day.  Thankfully, the heavens blessed me with enough sleep to think much better today.  I calmly put their reward out in front of them, explaining that yesterday’s screaming was out of control and wouldn’t be happening today.  They didn’t exactly argue with me, so they must have agreed …

A Parent's Fear – Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Intervention is not a show to start watching casually.  The stories are always to compelling and surprising.  The images and emotions usually stay with me for days.  Last night I caught half of two shows, one about a woman huffing computer duster and another woman who was an alcoholic.

Once I hear the parents and other family members begin to talk about heir loved one, my first reaction is one of compassion and sorrow.  My next is fear that one of my own children might end up addicted to something like the people on the show.  How horrible must the family members feel watching their loved one slowly kill themselves with drugs?  Granted, nearly everyone featured in these stories has some pretty difficult life situations.  Usually there’s a divorce, death or abandonment, sometimes abuse, and often at least one other family member with a history of addiction.

The common thread seems to be an event or circumstance that causes a huge cavernous pain inside.  The featured addict endured a great deal of stress and emotion, and often seemed to try other ways of distracting themselves before turning to drugs.  One man got into porn before drugs, another girl was an overachiever making herself too  busy with grades and activities, and another got married and had babies at an early age.

Before too long, these lifestyles collided with drugs or alcohol.  It became their comfort blanket, giving them refuge from the unending pain and shame.  Because they hadn’t dealt with their emotions directly, they quickly developed a dangerous addiction.

I’m not saying that if you have had a divorce, death, or some form of chaos in your family that you should be panicking about your kids falling into drug addiction.  I’m just sharing my genuine reactions and inviting comment from families who have been there.  And the truth is that some triggers could be unexpected.  A car accident with use of prescription medication for pain, being raped as a teen, sudden death of a parent – things like that we as parents can’t control.  Just like no one …

Bad Childhood Doesn't Guarantee Bad Life

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Life just isn’t fair, it really isn’t.  There are a lot of kids out there having some rough circumstances.  Divorcing parents, abuse, hunger, family drama, living in war zones, having terrible diseases, etc.  And there are children living with committed parents, no health problems, and in a safe neighborhood.  But does that guarantee how good of a parent they might be in the future?  Not necessarily.

When I think of people who’ve suffered and made a good life for themselves, I think of Viktor Frankl.  He was a Jewish doctor specializing in the budding field of psychology before World War II.  He was captured by the Nazis and spent three years in various concentration camps.  His parents and wife were killed, leaving only
him and his sister as survivors in the family.

Frankl had every reason to hate life, resent the Nazis for killing his family, resent his loss of time being a prisoner, and be generally miserable from his experiences.  Instead, he found ways to deal with the suffering that gave it meaning.  He insisted that the Nazis could do anything horrible to his body, but could do nothing to control his mind.

That would only happen if Frankl allowed it.  He adapted by making conscious choices in his mind that kept him living and looking forward.  He also helped other prisoners by inviting them to do the same.  They held imaginary holiday feasts together, told stories, and he gave lectures about life in the concentration camp to an imaginary audience.

He created a new movement in psychology and wrote a book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”.  The German title translated back to English reads “saying yes to life in spite of everything.”  I actually like that title better.  That seems to be something that nearly anyone could connect with.  Say yes to life in spite of your mother being mentally ill and ignoring most of your childhood.  Say yes to life in spite of having leukemia as a kid.  Say yes to life in spite of your parents divorce.

It’s not a cure-all approach, more like a moment-to-moment approach.  …

Think mental illness can't happen in your family? Think again

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Here’s how unexpected it can be.  A weather disaster wipes out your livelihood, the business you have been building for years.  You have insurance and can financially rebuild, but your spouse’s heart has been broken.  They’ve been talking about quitting in a way you haven’t heard before.  You don’t know if your family will keep the business going or end it and do something completely different.  Or, you didn’t have enough insurance to cover your costs and your family is now in bankruptcy.

The strain and despair seems unending and you don’t even know how you will keep food on the table.  And that is just one example of a surprise event taking center stage.  Consider a medical condition that requires a significant lifestyle change, like a digestive disorder or diabetes.  These examples represent more than just change, they also involve a broad sense of loss and grief.

You may think you can handle ups and downs of well enough, but often the problem that hits you is stronger than you expect.  It comes out of left field, and you are nowhere near prepared for it.  When depression or anxiety comes upon you, you may have trouble admitting it because you think you aren’t the “type” of person to have that kind of problem.

You may have a person in your extended family that you see infrequently.  They seem to put on a brave face well enough to cover up and excuse their troubles.  You may be surprised to find out years later that they suffered years of depression or significant anxiety.

In my case, I didn’t tell all of my extended family about my postpartum depression until I’d recovered for a few years.  I did a few interviews for TV and radio because I was supporting a new postpartum depression project for my state.  I think most family members were rather surprised to know how bad it had really become.  I think they understood that some times were difficult for me as a new mom.  But most had no idea of the suffering I felt.

You just don’t know …

Parents Indulging Their Kids

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

A few hours after watching some of the “My Super Sweet Sixteen” show yesterday, it occurred to me that you really don’t have to have much money to be indulgent to your child.  Just let them know they can twist you around for whatever they want and you’ll have a kid just as spoiled as this birthday girl.  You may not have all the bling to show off, but any kid of any economic stature can find things they want to have and want to do. And when they want it badly enough, they will push hard to get it.

If you give in continuously because you feel guilty about something, or don’t feel confident in your parenting, or you aren’t comfortable seeing your child upset, you may have become an indulgent parent.  It might have started because of a divorce, family turmoil, or your child being sick a lot.  It’s natural and understandable to want to give more to make up for a loss or because you don’t feel comfortable saying “no”.  Yet, every indulgent action has its price.

It may seem like you have a good relationship with your child because you never fight about them going out with their friends.  In fact, you let them go with whomever wherever and whenever.  It keeps the peace at home.  But when they stumble into the wrong crowd, what are the odds they will listen to you when you tell them they can’t hang with those kids?  About as high as that birthday girl becoming a safe driver with that ridiculous mega-Hummer.

What you have at the end of teenage-hood is a child who doesn’t understand the value of limits, either set by others or by themselves.  They learn to let their emotions rule.  They see other people (especially authority figures) as obstacles instead of individuals to be respected.

Once you realize what has happened, it’s time to start making change.  Of course, the earlier this is done the better.  Turning it around can be a big big challenge.  And quite honestly, if your child has been indulged their …

Indulgent TV Parents Make Me Shake My Head

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Parent Indulge Kids Pay Price

Here’s how this started.  I was folding laundry today and came across “My Super Sweet Sixteen”, which is apparently now on Style Network.  I have run across this show before on the very rare occasion I pause on MTV.  This show is like a bad accident – you know you should turn away and keep moving, but you can’t.  It’s both perplexing and disgusting all at once.

At first, I was getting upset at all the money figures this not-quite-sixteen year old girl was spitting out.  How much her entertainment costs, how much a present from her dad cost, and finally, how much her mega Hummer cost.  Then I stepped backand realized that people with some extra cash really have the right to spend it however they want.  That’s their business, and good for them for being so lucky and/or hardworking.

And then it wasn’t even the money that was so astonishing.  It was the dynamic of total indulgence that I found disgusting.  This girl seemed to know she could convince her dad to spend an excessive amount of money.  I didn’t see any hint of reverence or respect for how that money was available.  It was hers for the taking because she could push the right buttons.  She was also horrible to her boyfriend, treating him like a toy.

The Hummer took me to a new level.  The not-quite-sixteen year old said she wasn’t a very good driver, and the Hummer was a really safe vehicle.  It was custom made for her and was easily longer than a normal person’s garage stall.  So it’s like a bad young driver maneuvering a school van around.  But, since the parents are indulgent and the girl is technically of age to drive, she will get to be on the road.  It makes no sense whatsoever to me.

This isn’t the end of my thoughts on indulgent parents, but this post was getting way too long.  Come back tomorrow for the second post on indulgent parents.  Does this situation sound somewhat familiar, even if the …


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