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Archive for January, 2014

This morning I was on my way to the computer to write my column when I heard my husband singing in the shower. I sat quietly in the hall, sipped my coffee, and listened. He’d sing, then he’d whistle some of the melody, and then he’d sing a few more lines. It was pretty wonderful. He has a nice voice. But what brought a smile to my heart was how happy and content he was.

As I went to get myself that second cup of coffee, I glanced at our bookcases, which I had dusted and straightened the day before. Then I moseyed into the closet to admire my organizational and cleaning abilities.

By the time I woke up the computer and the little cursor was blinking in front of me, I had changed my idea for the column. “I’ll write on anger another time,” I thought. “Today I’ll write on pausing, pausing to note the little things in life that so often get brushed over and rushed by.”

One wall of my office is cork board. It is convenient for hanging story ideas, school calendars, jokes, funny and philosophical cards people have sent me, and family pictures I can’t bear to put away.

In one section on the wall I have all of my daughter’s school pictures. I love to look at the way she has changed and grown from year to year. First there are the big smiles of pre-kindergarten and early grade school. Then there are the years of shyness and tentativeness in front of the camera. And then a more mature face and a big friendly smile.

Looking around this room, there are so many pleasures. My coffee mug made by a St. Louis potter. The shape, the feel, the coloring, the handle – it’s so right. I’ve been drinking coffee from it for years.

One of my favorite cards on the wall shows a large green and orange fish swimming in the water.  A white rabbit dressed in a purple dress is hanging for dear life on the back of the fish. Above the picture is written, “Life can be a slippery fish.” How often that picture has helped me put things in perspective.

I have a globe on a stand in my office. It was a gift from a dear friend. Years ago the two of us were shopping in a stationery store when we came across some globes. I shared with her that when I was in grade school I would have given anything to own a globe. That Christmas my attentive friend surprised me with one. I like to spin it. I like the feel of it. Last week I used it to check out the spelling of Caribbean.

There’s an electric pencil sharpener on my desk. When I use it I become a little girl fascinated at how it can sharpen a pencil.

A handmade doll sits on one of the chairs. Her name is Emily. My friend Jeanine made her for me. Emily has on a blue and white dress with tiny white buttons. I never had a doll when I was a little girl. Maybe that’s why Emily has won such a place in my heart.

Hanging on the wall is a list of things I wanted to accomplish last year. Unlike other years when I have checked off only half my list, last year I checked almost every item. Perhaps I was kinder to myself when I made out the list. I didn’t give myself so many tasks to accomplish.

Other items in my office have special meaning for me: A carved bird, a small statue of a little girl, photos of flowers, a picture of one son in his football jersey, another son in his bathing suit.

Pause for a few minutes today. Listen. Look. Take note. Appreciate.

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When my mother-in-law got to be in her seventies, her eyesight started failing. As the years went by, it became impossible for her to read or see television or even make out the faces of those around her. Whenever we had a celebration of some type and I’d invite her to come and be a part of it, she would ask how many people were going to be at the house.

Because she could barely see, it was hard for her to sit at our dining room table with 10 or 12 other people talking and laughing and figure out what was going on.

She didn’t complain much about her failing eyesight, but I knew it was devastating. She started listening to the radio more and more. She rarely turned on the television. She stopped buying the newspaper and magazines. When she needed to pay her bills, my husband or I would sit down with her and put our finger on the checks where she should sign her name. We got her a microwave oven and glued fuzzy velcro on some of the buttons so she could heat up a cup of coffee.

She still kept a few violets on the window sill, although I doubt if she could really see them. She also would go to the window with a plant and hold it up to the light to try to see it.

The most touching moments I remember were when our daughter would go to visit her, which was several times a week. She would give Anna Mary a hug, ask, “How’s my sweet little girl?” and then take her to the window where perhaps she could make out her face.

Not long ago, I had an experience that reminded me of my mother-in-law. A friend, whose mother was in her late eighties called and asked if I would talk with her mother. The mother was losing her eyesight and was feeling depressed. I said I would try to help.

The daughter sat in the waiting room while I talked to the mother about losing her sight and how her world was changing.

As we were talking, this woman suddenly said, “I don’t know if it’s the light in this room, but I can sort of make out your face.” And then she said, “Do you think my daughter could come in here and sit where you are sitting? Maybe I could see her.”

I immediately went to the waiting room and got my friend. She sat down in the chair I had been sitting in, and her mother tried to see her face. The mother had her daughter shift the chair one way and then another. Sadly, no matter how she strained to see, she could not see her daughter.

I’m sharing these stories today so you will take the time to look at your children and grandchildren.

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Stepchildren!

Over the years I’ve seen many marriages fractured because the husband and wife have few skills for dealing with the problems that arise with having stepchildren.

Julie and Jim have been married for seven years. They have no children together but Jim has two children, ages 12 and 14, by his former wife. Jim complains to me that nothing his children do is right in the eyes of his wife. He thinks Julie is too demanding and critical.

Julie fights back by saying that the boys are disrespectful to her. They never say hello, goodbye, or thank-you. They rarely share information about their lives and when she asks a question they either don’t answer or give a minimal response. They leave their clothes and shoes all over the place, make messes in the kitchen, and resist even the simplest chores, like emptying out the dishwasher or helping to cut the grass.

For seven years the boys have stayed with Julie and Jim every other weekend. Julie has cooked for them, entertained them, picked up after them, shopped for them, and made a big deal out of their birthdays, but rarely does she get a thank-you from them or from Jim.

Julie thinks her husband is too passive with his ex-wife. She often calls on Jim to take the boys when she leaves town for a weekend. Because Jim wants to be with his children he almost always says yes. The problem – he rarely checks with Julie first. This has led to numerous fights and bad feelings.

Julie is also angry because she feels Jim is a soft touch when it comes to buying extras for his sons. Because she and Jim put their earnings together, she feels it’s not fair that part of the money she earns is spent on the boys. And Julie also senses that Jim wants to keep the boys to himself and doesn’t want her to have too close a relationship with them.

Lately the boys have resisted coming over on Jim’s designated weekends. Jim blames Julie because of the unfriendly atmosphere in the house.

When it comes to the children, Jim sees Julie as the persecutor and his sons as the victims. Julie, on the other hand, sees the boys and Jim as persecutors and herself as the victim. I, as the therapist, see Jim, Julie, and the boys as both persecutors and victims.

The boys are persecutors when they ignore Julie and don’t pick up after themselves. They are victims because they must live in a hostile environment which is only partly due to their behavior.

Jim is a persecutor when he makes plans with his ex-wife without consulting Julie. He’s also a persecutor when he doesn’t discipline his children and insist they show respect for his wife. On the other hand, Jim’s a victim because when he gets the parental urge to treat his boys Julie puts him through the third degree. He’s also a victim because Julie frequently expects him to side with her against his sons.

Julie is a persecutor when she refuses to understand that parents sometimes want to buy things for their children without having to account for the money. She’s also a persecutor when she fails to acknowledge that Jim’s boys are children and children are going to make messes and resist doing chores. At the same time, she’s a victim of their messiness and rude behavior. She’s also a victim when Jim plans her weekend without consulting her.

Here are some solutions for these far too common problems with step-children:

1. Sit down with your mate and agree on what you both expect of the children
when they’re at your house. Should they make their own beds? Clean up dirty dishes? Put away their clothes? Establish standards. Then both of you enforce the rules.

2. Decide how much money you will spend on the children each month in addition to child support payments.  Stick to the agreement.

3. Always check with your spouse before making plans regarding your children- no matter what.

4. Compliment your spouse in front of your children. You might say, “Great meal you prepared for us” or “Thanks for getting the hockey tickets.”

5. Encourage your children to thank your spouse for cleaning their room, taking them swimming or making their favorite dessert.

6. Make the children aware that their stepparent is also contributing to pay for their camp or swimming lessons.

7. Always make sure that your chil­dren remember your spouse on his or her birthday, as well as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. All stepparents deserve this kind of recognition for the many hours of their lives they give because they are stepparents.

8. Examine how you feel when your spouse becomes emotionally close to your children. If you start to feel jealous, don’t act on the jealousy.  Understand that a good relationship between your children and your mate is a gift to your children.

9. Be respectful of your spouse in front of your children and they, too, will learn to be respectful.  And when they’re not, confront them.

The very problems that plague natural parents as they are raising their children plague a parent and stepparent. But the parent and stepparent run a greater risk of becoming polarized. They often wind up fighting each other instead of seeing that they can solve their problems – if they pull together as a team.

 

 

 

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Sometimes things are simply better left unsaid.

In the past few months I’ve been building a collection of some of the silly, outrageous, hurtful, and goofy statements people sometimes make. Here are a few of these foolish comments.

Upon seeing her husband, a wife says, “You look nice. You must be planning on going somewhere.” The husband, not to be outdone, retorts, “Why, yes, I’m going out to chase women.”

We’re in church. The congregation is following along in the prayer books and every once in a while the people intone Alleluia. The woman behind me, however, instead of saying Alleluias shrieks AMEN. With that I hear another voice say, “That’s okay, Grandma, you can say whatever you want.”

Someone calls my office and asks for an appointment. I offer three possibilities. His response: “Business must really be bad.”

It’s early morning and the wife walks into the kitchen. Her husband is reading the paper. On seeing his wife the husband says, “What are you doing up so early?”

A friend tells me that he ran into one of our mutual college friends. He then says, “I asked the guy if he remembered you…and he didn’t remember you at all!”

A woman notices that her friend has obviously put a color on her hair. Her comment to the friend: “What color is your hair anyway?”

It’s noontime and I’m standing and eating a pretzel in my office.   This woman comes in, sees me, and says, “Is that your lunch?”

One man asks another where he is going. The fellow responds that he is going to the store to do some shopping. His compatriot’s comment: “On a beautiful day like this?”

A woman is talking to her friends about plastic surgery and she says, “If I had $4,000 and could take a month off work, I’d seriously consider having my neck done.” At this point, her friend responds, “It would take a lot more than $4,000 to fix you up.”

How about this one? An elderly friend has been working outside in the garden almost the whole day so I say, “Come on in and take a rest.” Before he has a chance to answer, another person jumps in and says, “He won’t come in, he’s afraid he’ll miss something.”

Then there is the woman who is definitely looking for sympathy from her husband when she says, “I think I’m coming down with the flu.” Instead of sympathy her husband says, “Oh, no, now I’ll get it.”

A husband and wife are at a party, and she is telling everyone about her birthday the week before. As she’s telling the story, the wife looks at her husband and says, “He sent me the nicest card. I was shocked.”

At another party a man asks his wife, “What time is it getting to be?” His wife’s response: “You’re the one who has all the watches.”

As I said earlier, some things are simply better left unsaid.

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Do you respect the people you live with?

I know a husband who keeps asking his wife to please close the garage door at night. She rarely does.

A teenager wants to dry a blouse she has just washed. So she takes the wet clothes out of the dryer and throws them on top of the washer so she can dry her blouse. She never puts the wet clothes back in the dryer.

Take the following test to see how you fare in the respecting-others department. Answer yes or no.

1. When you know someone is sleeping, do you tiptoe around, keep lights off, and turn the volume down on the television?
2. Do you put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder if you use the last piece?
3. Do you always ask before you borrow clothes, jewelry, money, tools?
4. Are you ready to go when it’s time to leave for church and family outings?
5. Do you let others in the family know that you’re going to bed and do you say good night?
6. Do you shut off your alarm clock when it starts to ring?
7. Do you clean up your snack dishes and wipe off the counter?
8. Do you leave the bathroom in good shape for the next member?
9. Do you give others their messages?
10. Do you get off the phone when you know someone else wants to use it?
11. Do you sometimes pick up after other family members?
12. Do you refill ice-cube trays after using them?
13. Is your tone of voice as pleasant when you’re with your family as it is when you’re with your friends?
14. Do you do your fair share of chores?
15. Do you wait until someone is off the telephone before starting a conversation?
16.  Are you careful not to interrupt when someone in the family is talking?
17.  Do you keep yourself from saying hurtful things even though you would like to blast someone verbally?
18. Do you keep your part of the house clean?
19. Do you use the word “please” when you ask others in the household to do something for you?
20. Are you conscious of not taking or demanding too much of the family’s income for your own wants?

Every “no” answer shows some disrespect for another family member.

If you are respectful outside your home, you are displaying a virtuous quality.
If you are respectful in your own home, you
are truly virtuous.

 

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