Archive for December, 2009

New Years Wishes for Families in 2010

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

If you recall last week, I was in the midst of the Christmas Blizzard of 2009.  Not what I or many people had been planning for.  As it happened, I planned for a post on Christmas Day for what I wished my family and yours in 2010.  Because of all that came with the storm, I wasn’t able to post that on Christmas Day (or visit half of my family).  So instead, I have transformed it into a post about New Year’s Wishes.  As my mom (whom I could not visit) said, “blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.”  Sigh…

I had a few specific Christmas wishes this year, and as usual some were fulfilled and some weren’t.  That made me think a little bit beyond myself, and I created a wish list for families everywhere regarding their mental well being.  These wishes are for both your families and mine.  As you read these, consider what you might add on the end of the list from your perspective.

Peace on earth seems a little large, so I’m going to go with more peace in my home and yours.  Just a little less assuming-the-worst-of-each-other.  Just a little more willingness to talk openly without fear of emotional rejection.  Just a little more patience with each other.

Some people this coming year are going to develop a mental illness.  Many of these people will not expect that they would be the “type” of person to have this happen.  My wish for those people is that their families are sensitive to their needs and help them through the rough spots.

Parenting is a tough job, no question about it.  My wish is for me and all parents to do more teaching as they parent.  Make parenting less about punishing and more about growing up a young person.  Make it less about tolerating the struggle and more about appreciating the opportunity and challenges.

It is so cliche, but kids really do grow up too quickly.  Today, right now, you have a chance to parent the way you really …

Yoga Thinking Helps Kids With Scary Thoughts

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

This evening, my daughter came upstairs just minutes after I had put her to bed.  Turns out, she and one of her sisters had been playing imaginary games about vampires during the daytime.  We had also been given a helium balloon that day, and it was bouncing around because of the air vent in her room.  Too many creepy thoughts and visions in her mind.  What would you have said to your child at this point?

Well, I almost did the same old shtick – try to think of something nice, try not to think about the creepy stuff.  Then I remembered something powerful from my yoga practice.  It’s not about trying to not think about something.  That’s like seeing a pothole and having a lot of trouble avoiding it because of all you can see.  Instead, I’ve learned that to acknowledge whatever thoughts come by in your mind and then let them go on their way.  That’s it.

So to make this more kid friendly, I got a little creative.  I told her to imagine that she was a hostess at a party.  Many would come to the door trying to get into the party, but not everyone would be invited inside.  She was a polite hostess, so she never slammed the door at anyone who wanted to come in.  She would politely acknowledge everyone that came to the door, and it was her choice who came in to stay.  To the creepy thoughts, she could say ” Thanks for coming by, but I’m afraid you can’t stay.”  And to the nice thoughts, she could say, “Thanks for coming by, would you like to come in for a while?”

I told her the point was to expect both creepy thoughts and nice thoughts pass through her mind for a while.  She had been getting too caught up in the idea that she had these bad thoughts in the first place.  She got about them and had trouble calming down.  With the “party hostess” concept, there wouldn’t be any surprise about creepy thoughts going through her mind.  …

I'm Dreaming of An Imperfect Christmas

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Beneath the shiny ornaments, the beautiful bows, the sparkling lights, a dark ugly monster lurks in the shadows at Christmastime.  It waits to steal moments of joy, satisfaction, and contentment from unsuspecting people.  It’s rarely talked about but affects millions.  Perfection.

How much did they spend of me?  Did I spend enough on them?  Does it look good enough?  Does this seem enough like Christmas should?  What if the weather gets bad and we have to cancel everything?  I don’t want them to feel bad because the gifts seem uneven.  I don’t want to look cheap.  My turn to do Christmas isn’t as good as the other families who have hosted before.  I hate that decoration but I have to keep it because it’s a gift.  I should have done more, done something different, not agreed to be the host this year.

Do you feel yourself nodding to some of these phrases?  I know I do.  Some of them have already gone through my mind this week.  I try to dismiss them as quickly as possible, but I can’t always prevent them from popping up in the first place.  How long do you keep fussing about the meal until you don’t enjoy it anymore?  How much money do you spend on wrapping paper and bows to make yourself believe you have impressed your relatives enough?  What nth degree do you decorate to the point that you hate putting it all up because you are “supposed to” or you always have?

I know this is a not a new message from me, but it bears repeating.  Seems that the monster of perfection is a pretty tough cookie, resilient and relentless.  Even people who are aware of their perfection tendencies need a gentle reminder at times.

Whatever you are doing for Christmas, always ask yourself if what you are doing or expecting will rob you of joy.  Ask if your expectations are reasonable and if you have built in enough flexibility to your plans.  Ask yourself what you might feel if something caused your plans to go way off track, like illness, flight …

Life With An Anxious Mother

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Don’t go outside, you’ll catch a cold.  Stay close by me, so I can keep my eye on you.  You’ll shoot your eye out!  Everyone has heard these types of phrases from their moms (or movie moms) from time to time.  But life with an anxious mother is different from from life with a mom who worries a little here and there.  Everyone has worries that overcome them once in a while.  But when worrying becomes excessive, it starts to affect the people around you.  You make choices based on fear rather than the bigger picture.

Daily life becomes more about avoiding risk and discomfort rather than having experiences.  Like playing not to lose, not playing to win.  A child with an anxious mother might start learning that the world is too dangerous to be explored much.  This effect can even continue on through adulthood.  When faced with discomfort stress, they often choose to go further inside themselves rather than take a risk and push through their anxiety.

An anxious mom can literally transfer her nervousness to her child.  A child that senses tension will become tense themselves.  Pretty soon, the child develops their own tense reactions to stressful situations.  When the child appears stressed, the mother becomes worried all over again.  The cycle feeds itself and continues on.

Anxiety and confidence are two polar opposites, and each has its own sort of inertia.  Whatever mood is going on, it tends to want to stay that way.  When a person is generally confident and gets knocked off course, they make feel some temporary stress from that adjustment.  But since they have an expectation of themselves as being confident and pressing forward, they will very likely get back in the saddle again.  When a person lives their life out of anxiety, even positive experiences tend to circle around and lead to anxiety.  They have an expectation that things may go bad or get comfortable, so they may not put as much stock in the good things in their life.

An anxious mother may tend to define their child is …

Parents With Mental Illness

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has an interesting report on parents with mental illness.  It states that no comprehensive set of statistics has been collected on parents with mental illnesses.  However, the authors of the report have been able to paint a picture of the challenges mentally ill parents face.

Who Are Mentally Ill Parents?

Parents with a mental illness may not be who you expect.  One could be a successful businessman with lots of money and a busy family.  Another could be a hard working office manager who keeps it together, most of the time.  Or another could be me, a well-educated working mom with a newborn, husband, and new home.

The SAMHSA report states that about 2 to 3 million parents self-report that they have a mental illness.  However, the report seems to find few statistical resources directed towards parents with mental illness.  At best, their numbers are an educated guess.  Mental illness goes widely under-reported for all people, so it’s not just a problem with estimating how many parents are affected.

How A Parent’s Mental Illness Affects Children

A mental illness can be a big elephant in the living room.  If the family doesn’t deal with the problem directly, all sorts of unhealthy patterns can develop.  Children may make excuses, minimize problems, blame and point fingers, clean and cover up the “mess”, bend over backwards to make the parents feel better – just about everything except grow up emotionally secure.

If the mental illness is mild only lasts a short period of time, a family can make good adjustments without many lasting problems.  But prolonged denial and lack of treatment can put other family members at risk for developing a mental illness or drug addiction.  Though it is not likely that a child could directly inherit a mental illness, a child certainly can inherit various personality or physiological traits that could make them vulnerable to mental health problems.

What Mentally Ill parents Can Do

A parent with a mental illness needs to do everything possible to take good care of themselves.  This can be a …

Disciplining Gifted Children

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Disciplining gifted children?  She really thinks she needs a whole blog post about that?  You might think discipline would be no different for a gifted child than it might be for any average child.  Wrong.  Gifted children present a few unique challenges to the average discipline plan.  If you are a frustrated parent of the gifted child, sit tight and read on.

Here is the first and perhaps most important rule when it comes to disciplining a gifted child — do not argue.  Do not argue.  Are you getting my drift?  Take arguing it off your list of parenting skills (not that it should really be at the top of your list).  You can get particularly burned by trying to argue with a gifted child.

First of all, they may be much better at it than you are.  Gifted children often have unusual amounts of persistence, high vocabulary, and lots more creative ideas going through their mind then you might at any given time.  They can whip out snappy comebacks and semi-logical explanations in rapid-fire succession.  They can make your “because I told you so” position looked pretty wimpy by comparison.

You get overwhelmed, they win.  And they may not even be trying to be horribly disrespectful to you.  They may just have better ideas at the time of the argument, and a lot more of them.  So there you are, stunned like a deer in headlights, and they have bopped off to do the next thing.  What now?

So instead of reacting and getting down quickly, you need to use your advantage as the more experienced mature adult and think ahead of them.  Make your rules and expectations crystal clear to them.  Be sure you do this on a regular basis while they are calm and not in a persistent competitive mood.  Believe me, I have put myself up against this too many times.  Be wise and pick your battles here.

In fact, you can use your creative powers against them.  Teach them exactly what you want them to learn by following these rules and then have them …

Making A Blended Family – Should You Do It?

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Divorce and remarriage is relatively common now.  Most kids know somebody with a stepbrother or stepsister, or at least a step-parent.  This sometimes happens with widows and widowers as well.  But just because it appears normalized, is it always a good idea?

This is a hot question because I am sure many readers have varying opinions on this.  As usual, I will lay out my opinion and thoughts on the topic.  Any opposing or agreeing viewpoints are welcome.  The more honest discussion we have about controversial topics, the more everyone can come to the conclusion right for themselves.  So here we go…

I think most commonly people remarry so they can have a romantic partner again.  The first marriage fell apart, and now there is a gap.  Remarrying fills the gap with the hope that things will be better this time.  Unfortunately, I came across some ugly statistics this morning.  According to MSN, 8 out of 10 divorced people eventually remarry, half of them within three years.  Here’s the ugly part – about 60% of remarriages end up in divorce court with less than a decade of marriage.  Not quite the happy ending most remarrying people anticipate.

I would need to dig a little more to find out exactly how many remarrying people have children in the mix, but I’d imagine it is a lot.  Not to mention that some families have his, hers, and their children.  That’s quite a bit of juggling for everyone. including ex-spouses who have visitation arrangements.

You can probably sense of direction of my opinion by now.  Going through a divorce once is difficult enough for children.  Adjusting to a new spouse and siblings is yet another difficulty.  The prospect that they could go through a second divorce is truly heartbreaking.

I’m not saying that a blended family can never ever work.  Certainly, people can usually come up with an example of someone they know who weathered the storms with a generally good outcome.  However, I want you to truly take the position of a child going through all these huge changes.  …

Family Conflict Communication Issues

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

When it comes to family conflict, the one phrase I think I hear the most is “We just don’t communicate”.  I hear it at my job, on TV, on the radio, and from people I know.  The funny thing is that we are always communicating.  What are we doing it well enough to keep our family going in a good direction?  That’s what we’re here to talk about.

When someone says “we aren’t communicating”, they probably mean that family members don’t understand each other well.  People are communicating all right, but usually in distracted unproductive ways.  People often give the silent treatment, yell out of intense emotional reaction, ignore, fling insults at each other, nag, play “poor me “games, criticize, whine – can you think of more?

When family members do these bad things, they are communicating their emotions very strongly.  Even a small child could pick up emotional cues like these with pretty good accuracy.  What’s missing is logical thought and the desire to understand the other person.  That’s the key to resolving the conflict.

No doubt, emotions are important.  In fact, they may be the main reason a conflict exists between certain family members.  However, emotions make bad CEOs.  When left in charge, they often run people ragged and create chaos.  In my opinion, God gave human beings rational thought for this very reason – we sometimes just refuse to use it!

So the challenge becomes accurately labeling and admitting to your current emotion   while not flinging hot daggers at the other person.  When they truly seem to understand where you’re coming from, there’s a good chance your emotions will settle.  When a human being doesn’t feel understood, he or she can feel lonely and isolated.  That’s all we really want from other people — knowing someone else understands us.

The point of communication is not to damage, but to create understanding.  If you feel a strong urge to damage people in your family because of your emotions, then it may be time to seek some help.

Just learning better communication skills may not be enough.  You may …

Divorce – What Girls Miss When Dad Leaves The Home

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

When a girl doesn’t have her father in her daily life, she really misses something.  It’s simply not enough to have a loving mother and good female role model in the family.  Part of a girls psyche is created by what her father reflect back to her.  A girl needs to know that a man loves her, values her, will protect her, and will be dependable for her.  It takes years for this influence to sink in and develop inside a girl.  And this can’t happen if her dad’s not there much.

Sometimes divorce is unavoidable.  Drug or alcohol addiction, an affair, physical or mental abuse, or a high level of family chaos could make a divorce inevitable.  And whenever a father has a history of being a danger to his daughter and other family members, contact and communication should definitely be limited at most.  Yet even when the benefits of divorce outweigh the costs, girls often still lose a piece of themselves when they lose their dad.

As long as a girl has dependable daily influence from a caring father figure, she can be protected from some common problems associated with girls from a divorced family.  If her divorcing dad lives nearby and can stay strongly involved with her daily life, that’s a best case scenario.

If her dad moves an hour or two away or if dad lives in town but doesn’t visit often, interaction becomes very difficult.  Dad becomes more like an extended relative instead of a primary family member.  This is when the gap of influence becomes detrimental to the girl.

A girls commonly interprets divorce as personal rejection from her father. Without this clear daily influence of a father figure, she will look for other males to fill in the emptiness.   She will seek the love, strength, sense of value, and protection from a sexual relationship.  She sees a boy or man wants her and isn’t rejecting her, and he sees a sexual partner.  Because she is seeking a sexual relationship out of emptiness, she is likely to make poor choices.

Even if she …

Add Family Responsibility Habits One At A Time

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

You know when you have a great new idea about how to keep your family more organized?  Then you jump right in with a full head of steam, a big plan, and lots of details.  Pretty soon, you’re making flowcharts, collecting tokens and writing utensils, and running to the office supply store.  Then, as you sink under the weight of your mega-plan, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as miraculous and wonderful as when you first thought about it.  More frustrating than not.  And it may not have even solved your problem, if you ever got around to putting it in place.  Back to square one.

Does this sound like you sometimes?  It sure sounds like me.  I’m an idea girl, not so much an implementation girl.  I get bogged down with the details and the enforcement, and the whole thing can grind to a halt.  Even some really great ideas that could possibly work have rolled into the ditch.  I couldn’t keep the big wobbly vehicle on the road before it toppled over.

So here’s the new plan.  Keep the idea but do it on a much smaller scale.  When I have recently fought of huge great idea for keeping the kids more personally responsible, I took one extra second and remembered what usually happens.  Big ideas, small implementation.  So to play to my strength and away from my weakness, I can see that I need to take a small slice of my big idea instead of the whole thing at once.  Then the implementation is at a level I can really handle.

Instead of adding five new chores with allowance, is there anything wrong with just having one chore for allowance for right now? Will I get ticketed by the discipline police if I don’t put up a full chore chart all at once?  For Pete’s sake, no.  Why not add only one chore a month allowing the kids to really develop that new chore as a habit.  Or heck, even two months.  When it becomes automatic.  For everyone (or nearly so), then we can add a …


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