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Archive for August, 2013

When my daughter was in grade school the class went on an all-day field trip. The buses picked the children up from school at 7:00 a.m. that morning and dropped them off promptly at 5:45 p.m. About 5:30 that evening parents started arriving at the parking lot awaiting the buses. As the first bus rolled in there were smiles and shouts of “Here they come!”

I don’t think there was a parent in the parking lot who didn’t feel a little relieved at the sight of the buses and a bit of a glow at seeing their little one jump off a bus.

As I was driving my daughter home I kept looking at her and thinking how much I loved her. Some hours later when she kept getting out of bed, long after her scheduled bedtime, I didn’t feel quite so in love.

As all parents have experienced, feelings for a child change, and change, and change. Sometimes love and tender feelings get replaced by feelings of frustration and disappointment. And then it’s back to the tender feelings again. Sometimes, however, parents get caught up in negative feelings toward a particular child. And no matter what the child does, the parent has trouble seeing anything good or feeling anything positive.

Recently I spoke with one father who confessed to having difficulty liking his son. Clearly his son was rebellious and had some behaviors that most parents would find offensive. The son rarely did what he had promised. He sluffed off chores. He had trouble backing down and he thought he never made a mistake. At the same time when I pushed the   father to tell me something he liked about his son, he reluctantly admitted that the boy was a pretty good student, didn’t get in trouble at school, had a great sense of humor and a cute smile. The trick was to get the father to focus on his son’s attributes at least some of the time. This would allow the father to feel good about his son as opposed to always feeling negative.

The first thing I did was to ask the father to bring me a list of fifty things he liked about his son even if he had to go back in history and remember some of the neat things his son did as a little boy. Although the father dutifully made his list he also couldn’t wait to tell me how his son had messed up that week.

His next assignment was to only comment on the positive things his son did. The idea was to get the father to change his focus from looking at the negative to looking at the positive. This assignment did not work either.

I then came up with the idea that every time the son messed up the father would say in his head, “At least he’s alive.” When I told the father this he said, “You do have a point.”

The following week when I saw this man he said that the assignment had worked. For the first time in almost three years he felt some genuine closeness toward his son. He no longer saw his son as an incompetent. What he saw was a boy struggling, sometimes inappropriately, for his own identity. As this father left my office that day, he grinned a little and said, “You know, I really do love that kid.”

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She’s been married twice. Now she’s thinking about tying the knot a third time and she wants to know, “How can I tell if he’s Mr. Right? This time I want to be sure I can live happily ever after with him.”

Although there are no absolutes or guarantees to happiness, there are some very specific questions you should answer to help you see beyond that wonderful rush of feelings you get when falling in love.

One thing to assess is what kind of past this person has. If he admits to wild drinking or gambling, wait a few years before saying “I do.” Time will help you determine if he has cleaned up his behavior.

What kind of job history does he have? His eyes may be a gorgeous blue, but you’ll get very tired of looking at him if he isn’t a steady worker.

If he has been married before, why did his marriage break up? Was the breakup caused by cheating on his wife? Was it because he worked sixty hours a week and only focused on his career? People do change, but you’ll want to see the evidence.

Where does this man put the blame for the break up of former relationships? If he sees his former wife or girlfriend as the culprit and shows no awareness of his contributions to their unhappiness, taking responsibility for his mistakes will be difficult for him.

If he has children, look hard at how he relates to them and to their mother. Does he put their needs before his some of the time?   Does he put you before his children on occasion? Do his wants come first some of the time? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, chances are he’s able to do a nice balancing act.

How does he handle his anger? If you have watched him fly into a rage behind the wheel or at a restaurant, at some point you, too, will be the target of his anger. Better pass up matrimony until he gets counseling and has his anger under control.

What do you have in common? Does he like to bicycle? Dance? Go to plays? Play board games? Go to movies?

What do you think of his friends? If most of them tend to be obnoxious or boring, look at him again. Is he a bit obnoxious or boring? If he has very few friends, think through why this is so. Maybe he isn’t willing to put out energy for people. If this is the case, it’s predictable that he won’t be putting out a lot of energy for you.

You’ll also want to have a good idea of how he handles money. Is he in debt? Does he overspend? Does he have savings? What financial assets and liabilities will he bring to the marriage? What are each of your expectations about how the money should be handled?

When it comes to paying the bill at a restaurant, do you squirm because you think he’s a bit cheap? If he’s a small tipper or expects you to always split the tab, money will become an issue in your future.

He may be very complimentary to you, but how does he treat his parents, his brothers and sisters, his co-workers? Does he praise or criticize? You don’t want someone who is stingy with compliments and generous with criticisms.

Don’t overlook personal habits. Does he have good manners? Does he pick up his clothes? How does his home look? Is he well groomed?

Name at least ten characteristics that other people would use to describe him.

List his two worst faults. Assuming that he will never change, can you live with these two faults?

If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll know if he’s Mr. Right.

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“Let’s go to a movie tonight, “ said Janet.

“That doesn’t sound good to me,” yawned Ralph.

As Janet was gathering up her coat and purse, Ralph suddenly clicked off the television set and announced he would be joining her.

Janet, already set to have a nice evening alone, asked, “Are you sure you want to go?”

Ralph assured her, and out the door they went.

As they drove into the parking lot, Ralph mumbled that the last movie must not have gotten out yet. So where did they expect everybody to park? Certainly the theatre could do a better job of scheduling.

As they waited in line to buy tickets, Ralph said that everybody and their brother must have decided to see this movie judging by the length of the line.

Janet, sensing Ralph’s annoyance, made small talk. She wanted this to be a good evening.

When they got into the lobby, Janet suggested that Ralph go with the crowd and find seats. She would get the popcorn.

Ralph replied, “You’re going to stand in that line just for popcorn?”

Janet shook her head yes, and in her head told Ralph he was acting like a jerk.

With popcorn in hand, Janet made her way to where Ralph was seated. His comment on seeing her: “You didn’t get anything to drink?”

“No,” she said. But she offered to go back after the movie started to get Ralph a drink.

“Never mind,” Ralph said.

“No, I’ll go back,” Janet replied. “I just didn’t think you’d want anything.”

“I don’t now,” said Ralph.

As they sat in silence waiting for the show to start, Janet struggled with feelings of guilt over the drink and irritation over Ralph’s negativism.

During the movie she couldn’t help checking on Ralph, trying to determine if he was having a good time. Every time he shifted his body, she felt a twinge of anxiety.

Once he commented that the popcorn tasted stale.

At the end of the movie he asked her what she thought. She said she loved it.

And what did he think, she asked. He said it was okay.

They rode home in silence.

The moral of this story: Good sportsmanship goes beyond the playing field.

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Vacation Time is here … and vacations provide some people with even more things to fight about than usual.

Here are a few possibilities that guarantee an argument.

Don’t make plans, so when vacation time comes, you can hang around the house, feel miserable, and blame everyone for not doing anything on vacation.

Go along with your partner’s suggestion to fly to your destination, and then complain the entire time about the cost of the airline tickets.

Plan a 2000-mile trip when you have only a week’s vacation. Drive like a madman to get to your destination and back home again.

Assume that you don’t need direc­tions to get to Aunt Lucy’s house, where you just visited seven years ago. When you get lost, don’t ask for directions. Also, yell at everyone else in the car because you’re lost.

Complain about money. For example, use these tried-and-true questions, “Why does everything cost so much money?” “Didn’t you realize how expensive this place was before you booked it?” “What do you kids think we’re made out of, money?”

Don’t forget to blame. For example, “I thought you had the plane tickets. I thought you packed the camera. Why didn’t you remember to bring the suitcases?”

Stick to your guns and accept no changes in plans. If it rains and you had planned to go to the beach, mope around and pout. Refuse to be consoled or get involved in any other activity. In other words, if you feel bummed out, make it a point to ruin everyone else’s day.

If  your children become sick or cranky because they’re off schedule and overtired, get mad at them.

Insist that because this is a family vacation, everyone is going to do everything together.

Or you could decide that no matter where you go on vacation, you’ll accept the fact that you’ll probably run into some problems. You won’t criticize or blame or be moody or get too annoyed. You’ll prepare as much as possible. If you forget something, or you can’t do something, you’ll make the best of it. You’ll shrug, you’ll laugh, and you’ll enjoy experiencing life in a different way.

 

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