Archive for May, 2006

May 31, 2006

Divorced dads – living without blame and loving your children

by Rod Smith

Children will, at various times, blame both parents for a family’s breakup, no matter who is to blame. Don’t try to get your children to be on your side even if your wife was wrong on every count and you, in your perfection, sprouted angel wings. Two people marry and both contribute to the need for a divorce when it becomes necessary.

I’ve met men (and women) who claim to be innocent victims of divorce but I hardly ever buy it.

Look a little deeper at what you did or did not do in the marriage. Get your focus off your ex-wife and ask yourself what your role was in the deterioration that necessitated dissolution of the marriage. Growth, and healing in your relationships with your children will elude you until you assume full responsibility for your part of the family’s breakup.

Until then, until you are cognizant of your role and take responsibility for it, any strategy you employ to more effectively love your children will serve only to create a further wedge between you and seem to “push” the children further from your urgent love. Until you stop all blame and victim thinking, your toxicity will permeate all your relationships, especially the one you want with your children.

May 29, 2006

Things dads can do to get closer to their children (requested re divorced dads but applies to all)

by Rod Smith

Embark on ruthless personal inventory. If you want to know your children better, the first building block is to know yourself better. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a task you have already accomplished. Many men who think they know themselves well are really quite familiar with the person whom they wished they were. Your children are unlikely, beyond about the age of four, to be impressed with who you think you are, while also possessing really good takes on who you actually are.

Every negative habit, memory, unresolved grievance, prejudice, “hot button” that you keep hidden within you will act like a filter and distort what and who your children are in your eyes (and impact your other intimate relationships).

This does not mean you have to spill your guts and divulge every dark secret in some small group (although this would not be a bad idea if you can find the right kind of group) but it does mean that you have to stop fooling yourself about who and what you are. Come to terms with the fact that our children are seldom as impressed with us as we ourselves are.

Appreciate that just because you want to get closer to your children it does not mean they, at the same time, will have similar inclinations toward you. If you are insistent (pushy, demanding) with a reluctant child, your attempts are likely to be counter-productive. Being close to dad in the heart-to-heart, arm-over-shoulder kind of way is the fodder of sitcoms and movies than it is a part of real life.

Real-life-close-to-dad is more about the capitalizing on conflict and turning it into a means of greater understanding and love. It’s about being committed to learning from each other, and long periods of silence. It is about sometimes feeling used, sometimes feeling taken for granted. It is about learning to appropriately speak up. It is about knowing what to address and when and how to address it. It is about knowing what to ignore. It is about knowing when to be loud and when to be soft. It is about knowing when to be visible and when to be in the background.

Television sitcoms can go from conflict to resolution in thirty minutes (including six to eight minutes of commercials). In real life, successfully loving children can take forty years.

May 25, 2006

I am attracted to a married man…

by Rod Smith

I am a single woman attracted to a married man. We work for the same company. I can see he is lonely and I want to be his friend. He makes eye contact with me but he is uncomfortable about talking to me. Should I meet him where I know he has lunch? (Question submitted online)

You are a relationship piranha. Find ways to address your own loneliness that are not at the expense of a man, his wife and children. The loneliness you perceive within this person is a projection of your very selfish motives. Even if he is lonely, his emotional well-being is absolutely none of your business. You are employed to do your job, not meet the emotional needs of strangers, and not wreck marriages.

Stay away from this man who is (thankfully) uncomfortable with your deceitful advances. Even if you did run into him for lunch, and even if you did alleviate his apparent loneliness, and even if you did start an on-going relationship with him, it would all be based on lies and deception. Since you have already established that you are a dishonest woman I question whether this would be important to you.

May 24, 2006

Entitled, spoilt son (17) — please help

by Rod Smith

My son (17) is a high achiever in every aspect of his school life. He is extremely popular and enjoys clubbing/parties most weekends. I am afraid that over the years I have spoilt him because he has been so charming. Lately, signs that were there years ago are becoming a huge issue for me. We are constantly banging heads. My son does not communicate with his family in a friendly or meaningful way, or tell us about his life, instead he complains about his meager pocket money, expects us to run to and fro at all hours, complains about the lack of food in the house, grunts when his mother asks him if he liked his school lunch she lovingly prepared, moans when asked to lock up (this at 2am when we have just fetched him from a club) and generally displays an attitude of entitlement. He almost always makes excuses when asked to help in any way. I love my son very much. His lack of respect for the feelings of all his family, his rudeness and lack of gratitude are making me very sad. Can you help? A Father (Letter edited for space)

I will reply to this letter tomorrow. In the meantime readers, please send me your ideas.

May 22, 2006

Lies, bad language – undesirable habits, and your children

by Rod Smith

Parents: don’t lie to your children. Don’t lie for them. Don’t lie through them. The world is confusing enough without you helping to muddy the waters. Young people have enough pressure to be deceitful without mom and dad adding to their confusion.

Parents: avoid bad language. There’s nothing cute or endearing about your toddler swearing like the proverbial trooper. To come out of his mouth, the words must first have entered his ears.

Parents: if you make your child get you a beer, or your cigarettes, you are training your child in habits most adults wished they did not have. If he can get your beer and cigarettes, he’ll be getting his own before you can say, “Where did you learn that?”

Parents: be financially, sexually, spiritually faithful to your spouse and you will teach your child better lessons about life than can be learned at the finest of schools. Let “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me” be words your child frequently hears and he too might learn to say them.

Parents: repeatedly remind your child that despite your many errors and failures, it is your child and your child alone who is ultimately responsible for making his life effective, creative and fulfilling.

May 18, 2006

Difficult or “high maintenance” people

by Rod Smith

(Published in The Mercury – 05/19/06)

Several years ago you wrote about “high maintenance” people and described my then-girlfriend to a T. Please publish it again. It was hard to believe a person who had never met my girlfriend at the time was able to describe her with such accuracy.

Comments come to me as Emails. I will make time if you want to talk.

Comments come to me as Emails. I will make time if you want to talk.

High maintenance people require constant attention and approval. They crave to be the center of almost every conversation and will often become symptomatic (moody, resentful, loud, threatening) when they are not. They analyze every move, thought, word and action of others, and then read more meaning into things (statements, looks, sighs, attitudes) than was ever intended. They are easily hurt, quickly offended, quick to rebuke when they do not get the kind of attention they think they deserve. Threats of withdrawal or desertion become a way of life.

High maintenance people are difficult, sometimes impossible, even in the most relaxed of circumstances. They pick fights, find fault, and personalize almost everything. They argue with people who are closest to them for no apparent reason. They often pick on strangers (waiters, helpers). They often live in a world of cut-off relationships where others are idiots and no one understands.

What can you do if you are in a relationship with a high maintenance person? You can do very little that will not hurt, offend, or get a reaction – but you must make a stand. High maintenance people seldom benefit from pity or patience or empathy. They will only benefit from being constantly challenged to grow up.

May 18, 2006

Partner abuse

by Rod Smith

(Published in THE MERCURY, 05/18/06)

Partner abuse is not restricted to physical abuse. This is misleading. Emotional and psychological abuse, while not requiring visits to the hospital, can be as equally devastating as domestic violence. It (emotional abuse) IS also Domestic Violence.

If your relationship drains your self-esteem, isolates you, feels more like a prison sentence than a loving relationship, it is likely you are in a controlling, abusive relationship.

If any one of the following is true I’d suggest you get immediate outside help:

1. When you talk about your feelings your partner railroads the discussion and gives you no time to think or express yourself.

2. You can’t discuss what is bothering you for fear of things getting out of hand.

3. Your partner criticizes, humiliates and undermines you.

4. He or she ridicules you when you express yourself and ridicules your family and friends.

5. He or she keeps you “in line” by withholding money, the car, the phone.

6. He or she has stolen from you and run up debts for you to handle.

7. He or she has thrown away or destroyed things that belonged to you, opens and reads your mail, checks your phone bill and reads your emails.

8. You are often afraid of the person you are supposed to be closest to.

May 17, 2006

Reader asks if I am really “so tough” as a therapist……!!

by Rod Smith

“Sometimes you tell people to grow up,” she wrote, “I‘m afraid to come to you for help for fear that you’d turf me out the door and tell me to grow up. Are you really so tough? Is it just to attract readers?”

Take up your life....

Take up your life....

I have never been deliberately tough believing it would increase my readership. Good counsel challenges people to extend their repertoire of healthy behavior. As tough as you perceive me to be, I will never deny you the experience of telling me about your life, its hardships, and your aspirations for the future, as long as doing so will prove to be helpful to you, and helpful to the process of therapy.

The therapist who encourages a client to vent his or her pain without challenging the client to action, in my opinion, does little for anyone. Insight must be coupled with action to ignite growth and stimulate change. If you want safety, risk-free living, and someone to soothe away the pain of your life without also at some point also challenging you, then you might feel afraid to visit me and you might want to go elsewhere. But I will first listen to you. Then I will challenge you to healthier relationships and a “leap before you look” lifestyle.

Maturity demands action. If I am tough about anything (and I am also tough on myself) I am tough with people who want their lives to improve without the slightest effort on their part. To them I say, “Grow Up!”

May 17, 2006

The sad, sad life of children who have everything…

by Rod Smith

My heart goes out to children who have everything. I know the son of a friend whose name I will say is Christopher. He is twelve and he has everything. At least his parents think he does. The slightest suggestion of Christopher being bored, lonely or short-tempered, they take him shopping. His very loving parents want him to have all the things they did not have when they were growing up. His environment suggests they have kept their word.

Christopher goes without nothing that opens, shuts, sails, sings, flies, slides, glows, flashes, rides or thrills – his room is an altar to the god of kid consumption, of clothing labels, sports clothing and sports equipment, sound equipment, musical instruments, the latest DVD technology (a VCR lies abandoned like it were a primitive tool), iPods, cellular phones and computers. He has two computers: one for games and the other for his “online life” and music.

Yet Christopher is usually bored, angry or both. He doesn’t know where to start having fun. This makes Christopher rather upset but his anxiety is placated by his ability to kill (and I am not kidding) virtual kids he creates, then sends catapulting into brick walls in skateboard, car or bike accident on his TV monitor. This seems to make Christopher quite happy – but only for a very short time.

May 16, 2006

A Parent Meditation to avoid loving children too much

by Rod Smith

Loving my children will be a, and not the, central priority of my life. Parenting, and loving my children will not consume me. I will not allow it to.

If loving my children has an all-consuming effect upon me, the parent, it will certainly also consume my children!

Undiluted, laser-like love, and focused attention, directed at any child will bother him, will unsettle him, more than empower him. Rather than helping him feel loved and secure he will feel unduly responsible for my emotional well-being, and that will feel like a mountain too high to climb.

Children deserve freedom from the intense, even loving gaze, of a parent.

Oh, of course, children want their parent’s undistracted focus, and of course they want the parent’s loving interest, but when a parent has too much love, and too much interest in their children (to the exclusion of other interests) then this becomes a burden for the children.

Children want our love, not the sacrifice of our lives on their behalf. Children do not need parents to be martyrs. Children want parents to be parents.