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Archive for October, 2013

What happens if your adolescent or grown child starts dating someone you don’t like? As a parent, do you take the risk and say something? Or do you say nothing, hoping that the relationship will end?

If your child is in the throes of adolescence, it’s best to keep your negative remarks to a minimum. No matter how well founded or well meaning your comments are, they definitely will bring results that are directly opposite to what you want. This is known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” The harder parents try to keep their teenager from getting involved with a particular person, the more determined the child will be to get involved.

If your daughter is 17 and her new­found love is 22 and a loser, you certainly have every right and responsibility as a parent to discourage your daughter’s involvement. The best way to do this is to limit the time she spends with her boyfriend rather than repeatedly pointing out his flaws.

If your child is over 20, he or she may listen more to your objections. But it’s still risky business to lay out too many negatives. If the child proceeds with the relationship and winds up walking down the aisle, you can bet all those negatives will come back to haunt you.

I had one couple come to my office heartbroken. Their son was marrying a girl they were sure wasn’t good for him. In their eyes she was demanding, critical and controlling. They had warned their son of this woman’s flaws but he was refusing to listen. What were they to do?

The advice I gave was to start recognizing this woman’s good qualities.  I also advised that they start building a relationship with her if they wanted to continue to see their son. They didn’t like my advice. Unfortunately, these parents continued to air their displeasure. The son married and moved away, the daughter-in-law is openly hostile, and the parents rarely see their son.

Another couple I saw for counseling faced a similar problem. Their 27-year-old son had fallen for a divorced woman of 34 who had three small children.

This certainly wasn’t their idea of happiness for their son. They worried about how he would be able to support the children and if he had what it took to step into a ready-made family. They were concerned that this woman was an opportunist who saw their son as a meal ticket. They also wondered if they would be able to accept her children as their grandchildren.

On the plus side, they liked the woman and the children and from what they had seen, they thought she was a good mother. So they decided to support their son and keep their objections to themselves.

I ran into this couple a few years later and learned that the marriage was working well. The factor that no one could have predicted: The son was sterile and couldn’t have children. So a built-in family was a gift to everyone.

It’s painful for parents when their child chooses someone that they wouldn’t choose. And it’s difficult to keep objections to oneself. At the same time, it’s a good idea for parents to soft-pedal their disapproval, switch the focus, and figure out what their child sees in the other person.

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When my son rented a house in Philadelphia with several other students, he found himself the keeper of a mangy 13-year-old dog, Blackthorn.

The problem for Blackthorn was that one of the other students who was renting also had a dog. This dog’s name was Kaya. Kaya was young, energetic and certainly more attractive than Blackthorn. So he got almost all the attention.

To make matters worse for Blackthorn, he had a large patch of hair missing on his back. This, of course, discouraged people from petting him.

Come winter, Kaya and his owner moved out. How fortuitous for Blackthorn. Now he was the only dog in the house.

One day, my son bathed him. Another day, he took him for a walk in the woods. When the students had a barbecue, Blackthorn was invited to play Frisbee.

Suddenly, Blackthorn was receiving a lot of attention. He became more energetic and less docile. He wagged his tail more often. His hair grew back. It was almost as if he had returned to an earlier time in his life.

Once I was sitting in a booth in a restaurant when several men in their 70’s passed by. The one man said to the other, “You know, Sam, I think that woman over there was flirting with you.” Sam half-laughed and said, “You think?” At which point Sam threw back his head, put his chest out, stood a little straighter and quickened his stride across the room.

Which brings me to my mother-in-law. Several years ago I took her to Harry, her eye doctor, for a minor operation. After the surgery Harry asked her if she would like a cup of coffee. Mother, then in her 80’s, said that sounded just wonderful. Harry himself went to get the coffee.

For three days Mother was more perky and more girlish and told everyone about Harry getting her a cup of coffee.

Woman, man or beast – we all need to be recognized.

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I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling and although each couple has a unique set of problems, one thing stands out: Couples who are having problems often stop doing nice things for each other. It may be that when she went shopping she used to always buy him a little present – a tie, a special blend of coffee, a half-pound of English toffee. Now she goes and buys for the children and herself. But the treats for him have stopped.

He, on the other hand, used to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work and bring her strawberries. He also used to make a point of bringing home his company’s newsletter for her to read. Now he does neither.

Here’s one technique that I’ve been suggesting to couples which brings quick, positive results and good feelings.

Get a large note pad and draw a line down the middle of the page. Write your name on one side and your mate’s on the other. Every day each of you should do three nice things for the other and write them on the paper. Your list for several days may look like this:

Joan     11/1 Brought him coffee, Picked up his cleaning, Told him his haircut looked good

Jim       11/1 Got her popcorn at the show, Told her “I love you”, Helped her wash windows

Joan     11/2 Bought food for his hunting trip, Bought him new wool socks, Fixed him breakfast

Jim       11/2 Gave her a back rub, Made a fire when she asked, Made her coffee

Joan     11/3 Sent him a card, Had a key made for his locker, Made him a cherry pie

Jim       11/3 Made dinner and cleaned up, Listened to her about a job problem, Told her the house looked nice

Joan     11/4 Complimented him on his tie, Said “I love you”, Sewed a button on his shirt

Jim       11/4 Sent her a card, Picked up milk, Bought her doughnuts

The trick to this technique is to keep doing it even if you’re annoyed at your mate. And keep it in a place where you can both see it – on the kitchen counter, on the dining room table. If you have children, let them see your list.  It’s good for them to know that Mom and Dad do nice things for each other.

Every couple who has used this technique has reported good results. Try it for a month. I guarantee, it works.

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She is absolutely unforgiving of her husband. She keeps a ledger in her head of all slights and perceived infractions of the last 22 years. She’s still angry at him for not sending her flowers when their first baby came. It doesn’t count that he gave her a necklace to welcome the birth of their child. No amount of “I’m sorrys” seems to soften her or make a difference. She lets nothing go. With every argument she brings up the same old issues.

Some years ago he made a five thousand dollar investment that turned sour. She never lets him forget. No matter that he’s since made a number of good investments.

She can’t stand his  family and constantly puts down his relatives. She talks against them whenever an opportunity presents itself.

As they are leaving a party, she criticizes the other guests. If someone is doing well financially she says it’s because they probably inherited the money. If she hears about a child’s success, she quickly follows up with a negative comment about the family.

She has little tolerance for her children’s bad behavior. Every infraction is major and calls for a lecture and a punishment.

Perhaps her body language is most hurtful. When her husband talks, she rolls her eyes and tilts her head to indicate he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She often has a look of displeasure on her face when he’s talking.  He can’t remember the last time she smiled when he walked in the room or laughed at something he said.

Even though he’s fifty pounds heavier and eight inches taller than his wife, he’s a little afraid of her. She’s never come after him physically, but he’s afraid of what she’s going to say, the lectures that follow his behavior, the looks of disdain.

She’s nice to other people. She runs errands for an elderly woman who lives next door. She’s pleasant to anyone who calls on the telephone. She chats with the clerk at the grocery store. She’s responsible at work. She volunteers at her children’s schools. What he keeps looking for are signs that she loves him.

In the past few years he’s been making more of a life away from her. He’s gotten interested in tennis. He’s been running. He’s been seeing a therapist. He’s been working on changing some of his behaviors. He has made an effort to spend more time with her going to the movies and taking short vacations. He has consciously given her more strokes. He has been trying to gently point out when he thinks her negativism or anger at their children is too much. He’s done more around the house. He’s not interested in another woman. He’s been faithful. He believes in marriage. They have children and history. They are financially tied together.

But soon he’ll leave her.

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What do you do when your daughter is overweight?

One mother confessed that when she looks at her overweight daughter, she sees her as a failure. And then she translates her daughter’s failure into her own failure.

“I try to hide my disappointment and discontent with the way she looks,” said the mother, “but it’s always there. I also make subtle comments, which really aren’t so subtle. In the past I’ve said, “I heard about a great diet book.   Should I buy it for you?”

“I’ve also said, ‘It’s a great day; let’s go for a walk.’ What I’m really saying is, ‘You need some exercise.’ The worst comment was when I said, ‘Why, you have a double chin just like me.'”

“When I look at her, I think she’s lazy. She has no pride. I wonder where I went wrong.”

Another woman said that it drives her crazy to watch her daughter eat. “I want to say, ‘Stop eating that roll and butter. Get control of yourself. Don’t you have any respect for yourself?’ I don’t dare say anything because in the past I have and it just makes her mad and not want to be with me.”

“I never stop bugging my daughter,” said another woman. “I’m always coming up with a plan. I take her articles and books on weight loss. Last year I enrolled her in a weight-loss program and she lost 50 pounds. Then she gained it all back. My next plan was humiliation. I told her I loved her, but the world hated fat people. This month I’ve offered to pay for her to enroll at a gym. Does all this do her any good?   It doesn’t seem to help her, but it helps me.”

“My daughter is 70 pounds overweight and seems to be on her way up,” moaned another mom. “She eats all the time. Her room is full of candy wrappers. I’m thin, and I just don’t get it. Nothing I say to her has an impact. She’s sweet and a successful high school student. She plays in the band and has lots of friends. I know she’s unhappy with her weight, but she can’t seem to get control of it.”

Yet another mother said, “The worst time for me is when I have to introduce my daughter, who is at least 90 pounds overweight, to someone she’s never met. I cringe. I think that the person must be thinking how ugly she is. I smile and am chatty and act like everything is fine, but on the inside I feel terrible and know it’s not fine. I feel bad for my daughter and bad for me.”

If you are a mother having bad feelings about an overweight daughter, you know that your daughter also is struggling with feelings about her weight. The best course of action is to ask her directly, “Is there anything I can do to help you with your weight? Or would you rather I said nothing?”

Some daughters will ask to be bugged a bit. They want their mothers to bring them diet programs and suggestions. This keeps the problem out in the open as opposed to pretending there isn’t a problem. Other daughters will ask that their mother not push food or tempt them with homemade cakes and cookies.

Some daughters do not want their mothers to say anything about their weight problem. They already know they have one, and they’ve already tried any number of diets and exercise programs.

If you truly want to be helpful to your overweight daughter, ask her what she wants from you. And then have the strength and courage to give her what she asks for.

To take care of your own feelings about her weight, confide in a favorite friend from time to time. Too, you might want to get a bit philosophical and ask yourself, “Why did I bring this child into the world?”

 

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