Archive for November, 2013

Let’s draw a trouble tree today. Take out a piece of paper and draw a tree with three branches.

Put your name on one of the branches.

Put two other peoples’ names on the other two branches. You might choose one of your children, a close friend, a neighbor, or a relative.

Now write your troubles on one branch and the other peoples’ troubles on their branches.

For example, on one of my friend’s branch I would hang the following miseries:

–  Son has learning difficulties

–  Oldest daughter has weight problem

–  Husband left her for another woman

–  Basement floods periodically

–  New car continues to break down.

Even people who seem to lead a charmed life like Mary Tyler Moore have problems.
Her misfortunes include:

–  Death of son

–  Two divorces

–  Diabetes

–  Miscarriage

–  Mother’s health problem.

Every person experiences troubles in life. Some people seem to experience more than their share of miseries. Others seem to be blessed and appear to have fewer troubles throughout their life. But no one escapes physical and emotional pain.

The trouble tree can help you put your problems in perspective.


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I remember one day when I stopped to get a cup of coffee before taking my daughter to the dentist. When I returned to the car with the coffee, I gave it to my daughter to hold. As we were driving along, I noticed that she was holding the cup at a slant. Immediately I said, “You’re spilling my coffee!” What I didn’t add but certainly implied by my tone of voice was, “You dummy.”

She looked at me wide-eyed and said faintly, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Perhaps it was hearing my own tone of voice or perhaps it was her childlike apology, but something certainly caused me to rethink how I had talked to my daughter. I know if it had been a friend and not my daughter, I would have smiled and said in a friendly tone, “The coffee.” But because it was my daughter, I gave myself permission to be irritated and critical.

On the other hand, I often say to my children, “Don’t be sarcastic;” “That sounds critical, say it again;” and, “Change your tone of voice.” I’m determined that my children should be polite and respectful regardless of whether they are talking to me or to one another.

When I do therapy, I continually tell people to take out the sarcasm and putdowns in their voices, for I know what distance a nasty tone of voice can create between a husband and wife or a parent and child.

Here are a few comments you might make from time to time. Read them over and think how you might sound.

“No, you may not have another Popsicle.”

“I want you to clean your room.”

“It’s time to get your bath.”

“I think you’ve watched enough television for the day. It’s time to go outside and play.”

“I’d like you home by 12:30 tonight.”

“Please get your towel and wet bathing suit off the sofa.”

“I would like the grass cut before you go play.”

“Whose mess is this on the counter?”

“Who’s got the Scotch tape?”

“It’s time to get off  the phone.”

Parents, listen to yourselves and how you talk with your child.


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According to Aesop, there once was a scorpion who wanted to cross a river. A horse was grazing along a river bank.

“Kind horse,” said the scorpion, “Will you take me on your back across the river?”

Thinking it over a moment, the horse replied, “Sure.  Hop on my back.”

When the horse reached the middle of the river, he turned his head to look at the scorpion, and just at that moment the scorpion lifted his tail and stung the horse.

Astonished, the horse said, “Why did you bite me? Now both of us will die.”

The scorpion’s reply: “It’s my nature.”

Like the scorpion’s, some people’s true nature is more clearly seen at Christmas.

Some people’s nature is to get frantic and frazzled with shopping starting the day after Thanksgiving. They run from store to store trying to pick out the perfect gift for everyone on their list. But once they have purchased all their gifts, they continue to shop every spare moment to find even more perfect gifts. Then they have to return their original gifts. And on and on it goes.

Others exhaust themselves with decorating. They never feel that they have strung enough lights. The mailbox could still use a string or two. They must have a Christmas tree in the living room, one in the family room and one in the basement rec room. Pine roping must adorn every banister and doorway. And why have a wreath on only the outside door?

How about the Christmas baker who must shell 50 pounds of nuts, make 16 different types of cookies, and give everyone they know a home-baked item?

People’s attitudes about receiving gifts show their nature, too. Some never feel satisfied with their Christmas gifts. No matter how many they get, they never feel that they have received enough. Or they are always dissatisfied with the gifts they receive. Or they calculate the gifts’ value and never feel people spend enough.

It’s the nature of some to use the holidays as an excuse to eat everything in sight and gain 10 to 20 pounds. Others view the holidays as one long drinking party.

Unlike the scorpion’s, human nature is not set. Perhaps hanging fewer strings of lights, making fewer batches of cookies, consuming fewer drinks, and deciding to be satisfied, will help you enjoy the holidays as a human being instead of an arachnid.

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Some years ago we moved into an old house that had huge windows in the kitchen. From the time my mother saw those windows she wanted me to hang curtains on them. I think our first conversation went something like, “What kind of curtains are you going to put on the windows?” I said, “I don’t plan to put curtains on the windows.”

Several weeks later Mom brought me an ad from the newspaper. A local fabric store was having a sale on curtain material. She would be happy to make curtains for me. “Mom, I don’t plan to cover the windows,” I said.

A few months later it was, “Curtains would sure finish this kitchen off nicely.”

I never did get curtains for that kitchen. I also don’t think my mother ever gave up hinting that I should.

A while back my husband our daughter and I went out to dinner. Our oldest son was our waiter. He was also the waiter for the table next to ours. During the evening we heard the woman at the next table ask our son if he would wrap up the rest of her dinner, as she wanted to take it with her. He said, “Sure,” and disappeared with her food. A few minutes later we saw him serving salads at another table. My husband commented, “I wonder if he’s going to remember that woman’s food.” I said, “I don’t know. Do you think we should remind him?” My husband said no. Later when we saw our son place a styrofoam container on the table next to us, we both breathed a sigh of relief.

I was telling my partner, who also has grown children, about this incident. She started laughing and then admitted that just the other day she was at her son’s apartment. When he left the room she casually poked her fingers in the flower pots, checking to see if the plants had been watered. In her head she kept saying, “Serra, stop it.” But she couldn’t resist checking and making sure that he was doing what he was supposed to.

This story reminded me of another friend whose son got a job on a river boat. Before leaving for his first day on the job she gave him a hug, wished him well, and then added, “And be careful not to fall off the boat.” Before giving this advice she had told herself, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” But somehow she couldn’t resist saying it anyway.

Through the years we’ve all excused our children’s behavior with the saying, kids will be kids. Maybe we need a complementary saying — parents will be parents.

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