Archive for April, 2011

April 28, 2011

Indications of confused boundaries

by Rod Smith

A boundary is a line (usually invisible – prison would be an example of a visible boundary) that separates a person from all other people.

Each person is responsible for his or her own boundaries.

Here are indications of poorly defined boundaries:

Sharing intimately on a first meeting.
Falling in love with anyone who reaches out.
Being preoccupied with someone.
Going against what you know is right to please someone.
Hoping someone you meet will have poor boundaries.
Trusting blindly.
Accepting food, gifts, touch, or sex you do not want.
Taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting.
Giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving.
Letting someone be in charge of your life.
Allowing someone else to say what you feel and see.
Believing someone can and should anticipate your needs.
Being moody and withdrawn because you are not getting enough attention.
Expecting people to read your mind and know what you want or need.
Habitually stealing the agenda, taking center stage, occupying the spotlight.
Falling apart to get care.
Eating for destructive reasons or with destructive results.
Sex for pain or to express aggression.

Cloud and Townsend book “Boundaries” is essential reading on this topic.

(The above list is collated from a variety of sources and over so many years and from so many places. I’d love to acknowledge all the sources and would if I had them.)

April 27, 2011

A woman writes, thanks her mother

by Rod Smith

Dear Rod:

I was touched by this letter from our daughter in the USA:

“We tend to take parents for granted. You have always been available to the four of us. It is only in moments of sudden clarity that we say to ourselves, ‘Wow, I would not be where I am today if it were not for mom and dad and all they did for me’. We are who we are because you are decent, hard-working, caring, honorable, wonderful people. Hopefully we are a little of those things as well. There were times growing up that were less than perfect but that is part of growing up. I don’t believe it is possible as a parent not to make a few ‘mistakes’ along the way. It is up to the children to decide what we are going to do with the difficult times, which make us stronger, more understanding, and more empathetic humans. Your mistakes were few and far between. I am sure we will never know the full scope of everything you sacrificed for us. I know I was able to pursue a career because of you and dad. I know that my sense of honesty and level-headedness is due to you. I hope that I can make you proud.”


April 26, 2011

His parents don’t like our daughter

by Rod Smith

“My daughter (18) is seeing a boy (18) whose parents do not like her. We’ve tried to like him but it is hard knowing that she doesn’t get treated well by his parents. Should we have a meeting with his parents to try and bridge the gap and help things to get a little better? They, as a couple, seem to be getting closer everyday.”

It is a good idea to meet the parents of your daughter’s boyfriend simply because that is a healthy and polite thing to do.

Do not meet them with your agenda of trying and mend whatever you see is broken. Ferrying such an agenda will become readily apparent and your efforts will prove to be counter-productive. His family will end up doing to you what you perceive them doing to your daughter.

Your daughter and her boyfriend are adults – let them face whatever they have to face from each family.

Your daughter will be better off in the long run if she develops her own response to all people, especially to the family members of men she chooses to date.

April 25, 2011

Children and happiness

by Rod Smith

“I see my first responsibility, as a parent, is to make my children have a happy childhood so they can have a happy life. Please comment.”

Good luck. While it is a nice ideal you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Your children’s happiness is ultimately their responsibility and not yours. The sooner they assume it the better.

If you, the parent, work hard at your own life and make the very best of your skills and talents it is more likely that you will have children who will do the same.

If you focus all of your attention on your children and on trying to make them happy it is likely you will create insatiable, demanding, and entitled men and women who are more than a challenge to all who know them.

Of course I am not suggesting parents ought to intentionally create tough lives in order to amplify challenge – this would be ridiculous.

I’d suggest you focus on providing a loving and challenging platform for your children to achieve well in all areas of their lives and get out of their way as much as possible.

Success, and reaching for success, is what results in fulfillment. I’d take “fulfillment” or “useful” or “purposeful” over the illusive state called “happiness” anytime.

April 23, 2011

I was unfaithful and now he wants out

by Rod Smith

“I have been an unfaithful wife and my husband is tired of it. He has given me a fresh start on three or four occasions but this time he refuses. He says his trust well is empty and that he has to move on with his life. How do I convince him that one more chance is all I need? Please help.”

Attraction is only enduringly poss

Take responsibility for your actions

Your husband appears to be taking an option necessary for his well being. I’d suggest you move full force into recovery from serial infidelity.

Unfaithfulness can hardly leave you with good feelings about yourself and I’d suggest you get professional help to delve into its origins in your life.

While his actions are painful for you, I’d suggest he has not had a painless journey.

If your husband were consulting me I’d attempt to solicit from him the level of his desire to remain married. Given any suggestion that he’d prefer to stay married, I’d encourage him to embark on an extended separation to allow you to get your troubled house in order.

Unfaithfulness is an individual pursuit. There’s nothing anyone can do to make you unfaithful. It’s not your spouse or any of your multiple cohorts. It is you who needs the help – get it. Allow him, in the mean time, to do whatever it is he needs to do.

April 22, 2011

Why I write what I write….

by Rod Smith

My sons; our dog - Indianapolis

I am sometimes asked why I write about 200 words a day for a growing audience both in hard-copy newspapers and on the web.

I will tell you 5 reasons:

Reason # 1. I get a high, a thrill, call it what you will, when I know someone has read my column and made the decision to live more meaningfully, more determinedly, more powerfully. I know things often work in tandem, and sometimes the column is a necessary catalyst to get someone out of a pointless orbit and into something more rewarding and purposeful. The fact that I hardly ever know the person (sometimes I do) or even what country he or she is in makes it even more rewarding for me.

Reason # 2. It’s a little tiresome for me to hear strong talk about sin as smoking or drinking or sex before marriage (I’ve worked in church circles a lot) – when the real sin, in my mind (without appearing to endorse any “traditional” sin) is the failure to fully live, to fully use ones skills and talents, to live at half or even quarter potential. If a handful of readers move towards greater effectiveness as a direct or indirect result of anything I have written I will count the daily joy worth every minute. (Reason 2 sounds a lot like Reason 1 — aah, a theme!)

Reason # 3. I grew up reading The Mercury – a South African morning newspaper – and my favorite section was The Idler. It captured my boyhood imagination that one person could “talk” to so many people every day for years and I wanted to do the same. After a brief visit in 2000 with the then editor, Dennis Pather, I was in. “You and Me” has been published every weekday since, usually in the top right-hand corner of the op-ed page and on opposite ends of spread where The Idler still appears.

Reason # 4. I LOVE Family Systems Theory and know that its application to any issue, in any culture, will bring desired reasonable change directly proportional to the willingness of the person or family to “stay” with the change they wish to see occur.

Reason # 5. I have and have always had an almost insatiable desire to communicate. Even if I am in an airport terminal (or on a bus or in a waiting room) I want to call a meeting. I want to challenge people to get to know each other, I want to get people motivated to “do” something. The web, a column, and an audience is perfect for me to express my inner desire to reach out and communicate. It’s not about money or reward – it’s about the desire to influence and to be connected.

April 21, 2011

Jesus followers hit the wall

by Rod Smith

He "unlocked" death

Easter Saturday, a little more than two thousands years ago, the first followers of Jesus hit the wall. His execution was complete. His corpse secure in a tomb. The courageous teacher was gone.

He, who had done no harm, who’d loved so intimately, lived so passionately, challenged everything so profoundly and, like none before or since, practiced what he preached, was finished.


There’s little doubt that depression and dejection hung heavily in the air for his followers.

They had traded all they’d had and known only to be abandoned by one who could walk on water, still storms, raise the dead, yet not appear to be able to avoid his own death on a criminal’s cross.

Then, somewhere between midnight tonight (two thousand years ago) and early the following morning, Christians believe that Jesus, if you’ll excuse the cumbersome phase, stopped being dead.

He shed death, walked from the tomb, embraced life in an eat-fish-and-walk-through-walls body.

Believe it or not, you’ve got to give it to Christians. A rebound of this nature from anyone, let alone their beloved leader, would stimulate more than mere celebration. This pivotal weekend, Easter weekend, rekindles so much for Christians: grief, loss and grief, then exuberance.

Believers, of every background and representing every cultural extreme and every ethnic diversity in every country on earth will flock to church to worship their risen Lord and proclaim death defeated.

On Sunday morning they will greet each other with, “The Lord is Risen,” to hear in response, “He is Risen indeed.” What they are really saying is, “On Friday I was horrified at what was done to my Lord. Yesterday I grieved his loss. Today he’s alive and there’s hope for us all, so let’s have a party.”

Great things can be learned from Easter: deep reflection, acknowledgment of grief, fresh beginnings, unreasonable generosity, and partying with abandon.

Let’s all do it, Christian or not. Let’s grieve deceased family members, relationships strained or severed, our possible role in the atrocities of greed, prejudice and plundering committed across the globe.

Let’s acknowledge opportunities missed and misused. Let’s consider the impact we have on others.

Let’s evaluate where and how we are a part of the world’s problem rather than the solution.

The uncanny thing about Jesus is that even if you don’t, as Christians do, believe he is the Son of God, doing the things he said is still good for people. Making a fresh start with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, like a brother, sister, and an in-law who gets your goat or an estranged business partner is good for the soul, rejuvenates communities. Reconnecting with people, offering grace, space to others, forgiving your harshest foes, your bitterest enemies, is movement in the opposite spirit of what is expected. It disarms explosive, stressed or polarized relationships and empties our tombs of unbelief.

Call your debtors with, “I’m canceling your debt. I cannot afford to have you owe me anything.” They might not deserve your generosity but Easter is not a do-or-do-not-deserve time. It never was, never will be. Besides, who among us can want what they deserve without experiencing feelings of fear and trembling? It’s about getting what you do not deserve. It’s about not getting what you do. It’s about grace, about being unreasonably forgiving, wildly extravagant with kindness.

Finally, celebrate your humanity. Dance with delight at the human capacity to reflect, repent and be revived. I’ll peek into my tomb today and do what it takes to clear it of resentments, self-pity, unrighteous anger and all else that keeps me from dancing. I trust you will peek into yours, find it wonderfully empty and join me in a rich and loud celebration.

April 21, 2011

My husband says I am obsessed with my children….

by Rod Smith

“My husband says I am obsessed with our children. He says they take up all my time and leave little for him. I tell him that is what it means to be a good mother. We discuss this a lot. Please comment.” (Synthesized from a very long letter)

Attraction is only enduringly poss

Mutuality is a challenge

I see several good signs: your husband is speaking his mind; you are listening enough to write for my opinion; you are able to have some reasonable dialogue on the topic without either of you closing down to the other.

I am in no position to comment on your particular relationship but I have seen women hide from their husbands in the name of being a good mother. I have seen women bury themselves in the children in order to escape the call of mutual, respectful, and equal relationships with other adults. Likewise, of course, men can also “hide” from wives – they can hide behind children, careers, and sports.

While a woman is enmeshed with her children she will rob herself, her husband, and her children of the beauty and freedom that comes with respecting the space and the distance everyone needs in order to grow.

Even trees cannot reach full height if they are planted too close to each other. Give your children some space and face whatever it is that makes them a useful shield. It will do you all a service.

April 19, 2011

Go ahead and surprise yourself…..

by Rod Smith

Attraction is only enduringly poss

Reach for your inner strength

You are probably stronger and more resilient than you feel and think you are. I am often amazed at the latent power I have seen come to the salvation of men and women who are under great stress or experiencing great pain.

You are probably more creative, tenacious, and determined, than you have conditioned yourself to believing you are. It’s been a joy to watch men and women dig themselves out of a tight spot once they’ve allowed themselves to escape the prisons of their own thinking.

You are probably better able to negotiate tough situations and speak up for yourself than you consider yourself to be. I’ve seen clients transformed from the proverbial wallflower to a force to be reckoned with, simply because they’d had enough of some people regarding them with less than absolute respect.

You are probably wiser than you give yourself credit. When push comes to shove it’s amazing what wisdom will emerge.

You are probably funnier than you think you are. When the chips are down, it’s refreshing to see how funny people can be. To cap it all, the humor of the wise, the humor of the resilient, requires no victims.

April 19, 2011

Stay or move, this is the question?

by Rod Smith

“My family wants to stay where we have always lived. I want to move for my career. My children (10, 12) have well-established friendships and my wife is a strong member of her church. The last thing I want to do is to uproot the family just for my own sake and I want it to be a family decision. Do we move to Cape Town or not? I am not asking you about the choice, I am asking you about the process of making the decision. The money is not significantly different.”

This is not a “family decision.” It is a mother-father decision. You and your wife get to make it.

Your children will establish added meaningful friendships wherever you live – and keep the friendships they already have.

Given the privilege of choices, I’d suggest you take the one offering most adventure.

Humans were designed for challenge, danger, and pioneering. There’s a lot of “leap before you look” in us all.