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Are You as “Good as Your Word?”
Keeping agreements is vital for the health of any relationship.
“Like litter on the side of the highway, most unhappy relationships are strewn with broken agreements in all shapes and forms,” said Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., author of A Home for the Heart. From canceling dates at the last minute to “forgetting” to do something we said we would do, broken agreements cause an erosion of trust, the basic foundation of any relationship.
Giving our word and standing by it and being steadfast and reliable in our affairs are measures by which we judge commitment and integrity. For this reason, agreements—both spoken and implied—should be given thoughtful and careful attention....
Making and keeping agreements requires that we are honest and that we intend to carry through. Thoughtful and careful agreements require that we listen to our inner voices and pay attention to our bodies for clues to our feelings about the promises we make.
Whenever we make an agreement we need to ask ourselves, Is this a pledge I really want to make? Is it realistic for me at this time? What will it take or what will I have to do to keep the agreement?
All relationships have their complications, but stepfamilies create a web of relationships and inter-relationships that make the average spider’s overnight spinning look simple in comparison.
Consider these possible variations: the woman may be wife, ex-wife, mother and stepmother. Her relationships might include her husband, her ex-husband, her children and her stepchildren, and her stepchildren’s ¬mother who is her new husband’s ex-wife. If her ex-husband has ¬remarried, then her relationship circle also includes his wife who is now her children’s stepmother. And, his new wife might have children of her own.
Change the genders and the man/husband/father’s roles are just as complex…
Considering that each individual relationship comes with its own set of potholes, it isn’t any wonder that the blended family might be in for a bumpy ride. For example:
• Feelings of loss and grief, guilt, anger, jealousy, loyalty conflicts, resentments, hurt and betrayal, rejection — these are just a few of the feelings family members may experience. Parents who are undergoing the stress and tension of divorce and remarriage may have less time and stamina to deal with their own feelings let alone the children’s emotional turmoil.
• New and different ways of doing things. When a family is forming, the members have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things. From the way the table is set and how the holidays are celebrated to ¬discipline and chores — everything must sorted out, discussed, and agreed upon.
Changing Relationships: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents
Finding time for self-care is even more challenging and necessary for the growing “sandwich” generation.
With people living longer than ever before, more and more individuals find themselves sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for their aging parents.
Coping with our fast-paced, always-connected world is stressful enough, but when you add double or triple the family responsibilities, well, it quickly gets overwhelming.
You’re probably losing time and energy worrying about things that aren’t getting done or things you have to do next. You may not realize just how much physical and mental stress you are under, or how much that has been sapping your effectiveness at work and at home. Guilt may be a constant companion. While you take care of your parents, you may feel that you’re not doing enough for your children, and vice versa.
NEW! Coping with a Loved One's Mental Illness
Guidance in managing the challenge of coping with another’s mental illness and to make your own life less stressful.
Witnessing the suffering of a loved one can be one of the most difficult situations we face. Among other things, we may feel powerless, frustrated and frightened. That’s true whether the suffering originates from a physical illness or injury, addiction or self-destructive activity.
When a loved one suffers a debilitating, persistent and chronic mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, those feelings can be compounded. Strange, unpredictable behaviors can be terrifying and confusing. Your loved one may suddenly rage at you with blame or be utterly dependent upon you for basic needs and emotional stability.
You may experience many confusing emotions yourself, including anger, grief, guilt, fear and sadness. As you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed.
Family Stress Test
Do family members bicker? Or do they acknowledge feelings and encourage their expression? This quiz will help one see if stress is exacting too great a toll.
Stress is a natural and normal “by-product” of every family’s life. In fact, family stress can bring out the best of us: as we stretch to meet the challenges we face, we become better parents, our children blossom and our families grow. But too much stress can spiral our families in the other direction. Take this Thriving test to see how your family fares.
1. There is a lot of bickering in our house. Someone is always angry at someone else.
2. There’s never enough time to sit down together, either to talk or to eat. There’s always too much to do.
3. My spouse and I argue a lot about how to raise the children.
1. We acknowledge feelings, encourage their expression and allow time for dealing with the issues these feelings raise.
2. We plan time for family activities. And we eat together at least once every day.
3. If a blended family, we maintain and nurture original parent-child relationships and let new relationships develop in their own time.
Good parenting can be even more challenging after divorce; what is it that children need during this time?
To be a good parent demands untold commitment and requires that you make countless decisions every day—about babysitters, schools, friends, bedtime and homework routines. It’s not a glamorous job, but it promises the greatest reward one could ever ask for: a child’s love.
But when separation, divorce or remarriage occurs, parenting becomes co-parenting, and what is a tough job can seem unbearable. Everything is more complicated and you are likely, at times, to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Co-parenting can be a breeding ground for hostility and conflict. Feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness can be intense.
With all the extra juggling, it’s easy to forget that, at these times, children’s needs intensify. They have been robbed of security and stability, their loyalty is being tested, and they are often bewildered, frightened and distressed.
Growing Yourself as a Parent
Imagine a baby shower where the guests bring a special kind of gift for the new parents: self-awareness, self-love and self-growth as a person, as well as a parent. How can parenting help one grow?
The best parenting requires that we not only work to nurture and care for our children but that we nurture and care for ourselves.
Parenting is one of the—if not the—most challenging jobs on the planet. There is the awesome responsibility of raising and guiding another human being, of course. But it’s the daily interactions between children and parents that can require almost super-human amounts of flexibility, patience and awareness. All the experts and all the books aren’t there when it’s your toddler who won’t nap, your child who stole a valued toy from his best friend, your depressed teen who is desperately searching for answers, your adult child who can’t hold down a job.
Successful—even joyful—parenting is about listening to ourselves as well as listening to our children. It’s a hands-off approach that brings the focus back to what we are feeling and experiencing, so that we don’t unthinkingly rain anger and fear down upon our children. Being aware of ourselves helps us develop a strong "inner authority" or an intuitive sense of knowing what is best for us and our children in any moment. (And accepting that sometimes we really don’t know yet!)
NEW! How to Cope with Challenging Kids
Tips for working with emotional and behavioral issues in children, to help them and you.
Joyce always expects the unexpected when it comes to her 8-year-old son Milo. Within seconds, he can go from sweet-tempered and happy into a vicious tantrum. She’s grown overwhelmed by phone calls from teachers, relaying how Milo hit another child in class or got into a fight on the playground.
After almost spanking her son when he threw a fit in a grocery store, Joyce realized she needed help.
She reached out to a friend who had dealt with similar challenging behaviors from her own child—yelling, punching and talking back—typical acting-out that didn’t necessarily constitute a psychological disorder.
Joyce’s friend recommended The Difficult Child by Dr. Stanley Turecki. According to Dr. Turecki, while some children suffer from psychological ailments that respond to medications like Ritalin, too many parents turn to drugs without examining the root causes of their child’s behavior.
NEW! How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Money
Money is often the breakdown of relationship. This articles shows ways to use money, or talking about it, as a tool to strengthen relationships.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has had to deal with financial concerns, whether that relationship was with a spouse, partner, parent, roommate or friend. However, talking about money can bring up uncomfortable feelings, especially when we have assumptions about who “should” pay for what.
The number one key to discussing money concerns with loved ones is to create an ongoing, open and honest communication about it. However, many people choose not to talk about money at all, or they assume it’s already being taken care of, or they’ll talk about it only under dire circumstances, when it is already too late.
So how do we broach the subject without getting into confrontations or creating hard feelings? Here are some pointers that can help:
Be clear. From the beginning, determine who has financial responsibility for what. If you haven’t had a discussion about this yet, it’s time to broach the subject. You can start the process by trying to uncover any assumptions that each of you has made. That way you can truly understand what the other person feels and thinks.
How Well Are You Listening to Your Children (or Others)?
When most of our communication is spent defending ourselves, there’s not much room for meaningful contact. This quiz helps identify the problem and offers alternative perspectives.
When our children come to us with a problem, we usually want to help them. So we console, interpret, advise, distract or praise. Other times, we feel we must teach our children, and so we interrogate, lecture, moralize or order. And probably more often than we’d like, we respond angrily—blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, shaming or withdrawing.
However, all of these responses are problematic—whether with our children, or with the adults in our lives. They often serve to stop the communication of real feelings and the development of individual solutions. Take the quiz below, adapted from the classic Parent Effectiveness Training, by Dr. Thomas Gordon, to assess your listening skills.
1. I let my children feel their difficult feelings, knowing that comments such as “Everyone goes through this” deny the strength of their feelings.
2. I try to listen for the need beneath the words and respond to that.
3. I make it a point to check in to see if I’ve understood something in the way my child intended it. When I do, I try to keep my own feelings, opinions and guidance out of it.
Setting Limits: How to Say Yes to Yourself and No to Others
Set limits when necessary to claim what one needs, including self-respect.
Read any magazine article or book about parenting and the author will advise the necessity of setting limits for children. “Set limits and stick to them,” parents are counseled. Limits create the structure and discipline that every child needs for healthy upbringing.
But for adults—especially those who tend to view other people’s needs and wants as more important than their own—setting limits is more than an exercise in discipline; it’s a vital component in good self-care.
Sometimes it’s difficult to learn to care for ourselves as much as we care for others. Especially if we feel uncomfortable or guilty saying “no.” We may fear losing someone or something if we set limits on how much time we can give or work we can handle or if we claim space for ourselves. But always giving in to the requests or demands of others is plowing a field where resentments take seed. And failing to assert our needs and wants or to stand up for ourselves is disregarding our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Special Delivery: Talking to Kids About Divorce
Research shows that children of divorce can suffer serious emotional consequences, some of them long-term. But parents can help mitigate the potential trauma. Here are ways to begin.
When families are separating, the wife and husband can be very absorbed in their own emotions and out of touch with what’s going on with their kids’ feelings, leaving the kids to cope for themselves with the tremendous upheaval in their lives.
It can be a huge emotional weight on children. Numerous studies have shown that children of divorce experience high levels of depression, anxiety, aggression, lower academic achievement and trouble forming personal relationships.
But it is possible for people who need to get divorced to do so in a dignified manner that won’t cause trauma to their children and to address the emotional hazards of divorce in children before problems manifest themselves.
Here are some suggestions for divorcing parents:
Deal with the divorce in a “common language.” Come up with wording that both of you will use to talk about the divorce. Doing so will help reduce confusion and upset.
Summer Vacations and Families—What To Do With All That Togetherness?
Summer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times. How does a harried parent ensure that there’s more of the former?
Interminable plane trips, boring hotel rooms, exhausting hours together in the car, funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain — family vacations can be difficult enough for adults, but for children they can be down right awful!
On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing time and goofing-off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives — family vacations can be the best thing since summer was invented.
How to have more of the best of times and less of the worst?
First of all, watch out for great expectations. Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, letters, share them all. Make check-lists, too, with responsibilities for everyone.
NEW! Surviving Improper Parenting
Healing from improper parenting/ becoming better parents for the next generation.
Because parents are usually the first influence in our lives, what we learn or do not learn from them when we’re young can have lasting repercussions. Unfortunately, this can translate into many people suffering from the effects of improper parenting.
If not addressed, those effects can be felt for a lifetime, and they include low self-esteem, being drawn into abusive relationships, unhealthy habits or inhibitions and feelings of worthlessness.
Improper parenting can include physical, sexual and verbal abuse, physical and emotional neglect, rejection, favoritism of one sibling over another, lack of discipline, forcing choices on children and being overly protective or indulgent.
Because we often parent as we were parented, it’s important to heal our own wounds and learn proper parenting techniques so that we don’t perpetuate the cycle. As P.D. James wrote in Time to Be in Earnest, “What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give.”
NEW! The Effect of Family Roles on Life’s Choices
The common roles that children play in a family, and the role’s impact on adult life.
Roles are especially harmful in families where abuse and/or addiction occurs. They become a vain attempt to control a situation that is chaotic and frightening. Also, as John Bradshaw explains in On the Family, roles function to project the image of the happy family, preserving denial that anything is wrong.
Based on the work of Virginia Satir, Claudia Black and Sharon Wegscheider, below are the common roles that children play in the family, as well as that role’s impact on adult life.
The hero is the responsible one. She gets good grades in school, is goal oriented and self-disciplined. From the outside, she appears on top of her game. Internally, however, she bears the burden of making the family look good. She also believes that if she is perfect enough, the family problems will go away.
NEW! The Empty Nest: What Happens When the Chicks Fly
How to adapt and flourish after the children have left home.
From the second they arrive on the planet, just inches long and utterly dependent, our children occupy a place in our hearts deeper than most any other relationship.
We nurture, guide, feed and protect them for years. The relationship brings us a complex mixture of joy, frustration, sadness, delight, anger, pride and love. Our children occupy our focus like nothing else, as they grow taller and more independent with every year.
And then they go away.
Of course, we knew that from the beginning. And that’s been the goal all along. But that doesn't make an empty nest any easier when it finally comes.
Fortunately, an empty nest is also the beginning of another era for parents, one that can be equally fulfilling.
Top 10 Barriers to Connection
Avoiding these ten behaviors can greatly improve relationships.
When people come to us with a problem, it’s easy to lapse into behaviors that—although usually well-meaning—serve to block us from hearing the other person’s experience. We’d be better off following the words of this inside-out saying: “Don’t just do something; stand there”…and try not to:
1. Counsel. Seek not to advise solutions (until asked) but listen and reflect back the person’s experience.
Sarah’s story exhibits several of the hallmarks of verbal abuse:
2. Defend. When you explain, justify or rationalize, you invalidate the other’s experience. You can create a time to offer your experience, but for now, just listen.
3. Shut down. This happens in parenting when we say things like: “Stop crying. It’s not that bad.” Children are more likely to stop crying when they feel they’ve been heard.
Top 10 Tips for Talking With Your Children
It has never been more critical for parents to talk with their children about difficult and often disturbing issues. Here are ten tips to help parents begin the dialogue.
Certainly we knew there’d come the time for the “big talk,” but who knew we’d be struggling with how to talk to our children about drugs and AIDS and gay relationships, guns and violence at school, and kids who kill other kids.
Our world has grown more complex and the media, including the Internet, has swung wide the doors to information and misinformation. Talking with our children about difficult and often disturbing issues has never been more critical.
Following are some tips that may help.
1. It’s never too soon to start. Kids are hearing about issues at an earlier age.
2. Don’t wait for them to ask. Just because they haven’t asked about something doesn’t mean they don’t want or need information.
3. Tackle subjects even if you’re uncomfortable. Set aside your own feelings and initiate dialogue.
Top 10 Ways to Get Through Tense Family Gatherings
Family gatherings may not always be fun, but they don’t have to be disasters.
Let’s face it. Family gatherings are not always roses and cotton candy. For some families, they’re masked balls with everyone straining to maintain a façade of harmony. For others, they’re Wild West shootouts. Try some of these tips.
1. Make a pro-and-con list. Clear your head, find a calm moment and decide whether it is best for you to go.
2. Consider smaller portions. Plan to visit only for appetizers or dessert.
3. Educate yourself. Seek information on the issues or dynamics that tend to come up in your family.
4. Dig deeper. How do you contribute to the tension? Can you adjust your understanding of other points of view?