April 17, 2017
Talk about what you would like to do more as a family and what would we prefer to do less as a family. The list may include monumental challenges that take years to address. The list may include things that can be changed in an instant.
Talk about what you would each like to do more, and less, as individuals in the family. As above, some may be really easy and some may take seemingly forever.
Plan something meaningful and unusual (“off the charts”) that the family agrees to work toward. This may be a trip, a building project, or entering as a family into a race.
Discuss (according to age, ability, and appropriateness) topics that are usually taboo like death, sex, finances, and family secrets. Discuss why they are taboo in the first place. When and why and how did the secret become a secret. Who decides what is and what is not a secret?
Consult a professional who is able to construct a Genogram with your family. Request that it span three generations. This will (potentially) alert family members to troublesome trends and urges that pre-exist within the family system and therefore (potentially) equip members to face them if and when they emerge again. Nothing in families is new!
April 10, 2017
Finding the delicate balance between knowing, being aware, and invading or conquering.
My teenage sons deserve private lives that are quite separate from me. Yet, they need me to be knowledgeable about their difficulties, their confusions, and some of their discomforts. I’ve noticed that when I am comfortable with my own life, my relationships, with setting and achieving my goals, I am quite relaxed about theirs. When I am discontent with my own life I tend to want to meddle with, or invade, or fix their lives.
Finding the balance between serving my sons and letting them do necessary tasks without my help.
I usually do the laundry – but both boys are fully capable of doing their own. When I do it for them I am happily serving them and they are grateful and we are all happy with what is mostly an unspoken arrangement. When my sons are annoyed or picky about the way I do the laundry (and this is quite rare) then they have lost their grateful edge and have moved into entitlement and expectations. At this point my help is not very helpful.
May our struggles in our home, as different as they may be from yours, inspire and encourage you.
March 14, 2017
It is not only some exotic insects that eat their young. I’ve seen parents do it quite regularly. It happened to my friend when we were boys. His mother ate him. She tried to eat me too but I got away. I ran as fast as I could and after I did that once she left me alone. After I ran away that first time I could visit without her making a meal out of me. She knew I knew what she was up to and furthermore, I knew she knew I knew. Before all this “knewing” gets ridiculous I know that because of what we both knew I knew, she didn’t like me much which was okay with me. If you don’t like someone very much you are unlikely to eat him. Knowing made me safe – which I think it usually does.
Mrs. RunAwayBunny (I call her that just for fun) didn’t eat her son all in one bite, it was just slow, steady mouthfuls. Every time he expressed a view that wasn’t also her view, he got tongue lashed. She chewed him out when he showed any desire for independence or if he laughed at anything she didn’t find funny. Then one day it finally happened, she swallowed him altogether. His pinkie toe of his left foot was my very last glimpse of the real him. All this adoration and love wasn’t very pretty.
Of course she “loved him to death” and because he was “so adorable” she could just “eat him up.” So she did. She did spit him out after a few days much like I imagined the whale regurgitated Jonah. Unlike Jonah, my friend stopped thinking, seeing, feeling, and speaking for himself. Something happened when he got swallowed up, I guessed it was getting so near to the womb he’d already left, that stopped him up or it was something to do with getting too much mother juice. She loved him into what she wanted, into seeing things through her eyes, and when he did, she thought these triumphs were remarkable signs of just how much he loved her. She measured his love by how much of him she could occupy even though it was “Mrs. RunAwayBunny” (I’m liking her name more and more and you’ll know why if you’ve read the story) who wanted to occupy him. If this confuses you now you must know how much it confused me then.
We still rode our bikes together and we sometimes still walked through the forest at the bottom of the yard but after she ate him and coughed him up like a cat and a hairball it was like riding my bike with her and walking through the forest with someone who was always careful and afraid. After she loved him to death he wouldn’t cross Blackburn Road when there was no traffic without being terrified.
Yes. One day, as I told you, and because she loved him so completely and she was always willing to sacrifice her needs for him, she ate the boy out of him altogether. I know. I was there. I watched it happen.
March 14, 2017
I ask a woman how her life is going and she tells me about her children. She’s very forthcoming. I hear about their failures and successes and their disappointments and their accomplishments in sports.
So I ask again how she is enjoying her life and she tells me about her children’s teachers and how dedicated they are and how they go the extra mile for her sons and how much she appreciates it and how happy her sons are at school.
I persist and ask her if she has any close friends and how much time she spends with her peers and she tells me how her sons’ friendships are a little disappointing to her and that sometimes they get left off birthday party lists and how much it hurts her when that happens and how she wishes adults were more sensitive to her children.
I ask the same woman who happens to also be a wife how she is enjoying her husband and she tells me they “work together” as parents and they are almost always on the “same page.”
I press in and ask the woman if she has a life outside of being a mom and she gives me that blank look as if I have no idea what I am talking about.
March 12, 2017
When it comes to my sons, I remind myself of these things:
- Their lives are larger at their ages than mine was at their ages. Of course, they’re starting late and the world is a very different place. Their platforms are more complex, and more dynamic than mine was and, I admit, I am somewhat limited in my ability to identify with it. This means I should not be taken aback when I am blinded to possibilities and experiences they see and want to embrace. Rejecting an idea or a possibility simply because I couldn’t envision it is a good way to widen a gap than is mine, and not theirs, to bridge.
- While the world is a very different place than it was in my formative years, some things remain unchanged. Good manners, using please and thank you, looking people in the eye, standing up for adults, dealing honestly with money and time, working hard, and displaying empathy in the face of those who are suffering – are values that cannot be discarded just because the world is faster paced than it once was. One of my jobs as a parent is to encourage, even enforce some of these things if necessary.
- I am enough for my sons and the only dad they will ever need.
December 22, 2014
Perhaps I was not like other children and the differences I experienced were as profound as they felt.
Perhaps all that separated me from what I perceived was the experience of other children was amplified in my young heart.
You know, you know how children are said to amplify things.
Who can tell these many years later?
But the things I wanted for Christmas when I was very young, and I mean as young as 7 and 8 and up until I was 10 and 11, required no batteries or remote devices or charging.
I wanted safe adults. I wanted adults whom I could trust. I wanted them sober. I wanted them sober all the time, not just in the mornings.
I wanted my dad to be as sober as my mother always was.
I wanted a peaceful home.
I wanted to live in a house where people didn’t live on the edge of financial ruin and where the anxiety over lack of resources was not repeatedly temporarily eased by very excessive drinking.
You can think I am exaggerating if you want. I’m not.
I did get it – I got all I wanted for Christmas when I was 12.
Dad stopped drinking.
December 21, 2014
“There’s a young woman cutting herself outside my flat. What can I tell her?”
(Text received from South Africa)
Assess the level of urgency.
Does she need an ambulance or your presence?
If it’s the latter, your presence is more important than your words.
Be very respectful.
Ask if she wants you to say anything at all.
If she tells you to be quiet, be quiet. Tell her you will sit with her in silence.
Allow the quietness between you to settle in, and this could take a long while, then tell her gently that you are willing to listen to her for as long as she wants to speak, and that you will not say a word while she talks or try to rearrange her thoughts or mess with her feelings.
If she tells you that you may talk, tell her very gently, after much silence, that there is help available to people who think that hurting themselves is helpful; that while her strong feelings that result in her inflicting pain upon herself may offer her a tangible outlet for her strong feelings, there are steps available toward more permanent relief from whatever she is facing.
October 6, 2013
“What’s your opinion on this quotation by TV relationship expert: ‘If your wife has a problem with your mother, it is your job to intervene and try to fix it.'”
A husband could intervene and try to “fix” a problem between the two important women in his life but the results will be temporary and playing superman will get old. Intervening in others’ conflicts is the springboard to burnout.
And, he’ll be signing up to intervene in many more conflicts, which, except for the conflicts they mutually enjoy, will have nothing to do with him.
If a wife can’t negotiate with her mother-in-law she’s likely to fight with many.
Besides, trying to fix a relationship from the outside, encourages participants to think the issues stem from the outside.
Here’s an axiom: problems between two people are seldom about the “other” person. I’d suggest each woman deeply consider what it is about herself that conflict seems to be a worthwhile pursuit.
If a wife really wants to fix her relationship with her mother-in-law a good place to begin is with her own mother – go authentically deeper with mom, and she’d be amazed at how much else will begin to fall into place.
So, I think “TV relationship expert” is incorrect.