What would you do?

What would you do?

When we read or hear about other people’s experiences, there is a temptation to imagine how we would have handled their situation differently than they did. “Well if that happened to me, I would’ve…,” but really that isn’t fair to the person who actually experienced it. When aided by the benefit of hindsight, we almost certainly come to a different decision than we would have in the moment. One of the first things I say when I’m asked by a client, or a friend, what I would have done in any particular situation is, “It really isn’t fair for me to pretend to know.” I’m glad to offer my thoughts on a past decision but I’m careful to admit that one doesn’t know how they would react to any given situation until they are actually faced with that situation. It’s easy to look back and see where others have made bad judgments and to wonder how such decisions could have been made, but we must remember that the benefit of hindsight is only afforded after the event has occurred. So, hold back your judgment and resist the urge to tell others how much better you would have handled their situation than they did. Remember that we all do the best we can in any given moment and we all make mistakes.

Step-ping up

Step-ping up

Being a step parent is challenging. And also the sun is hot and the ocean is wet and all other things that are true beyond words. If you’re lucky, you never have to hear your step child yell, “You can’t tell me what to do!” “You’re not my father/mother!” It can be very difficult for a child to learn to take direction from a new parental figure and this can lead to great stress within the home. It can also be difficult for a stepparent to learn how to interact with a child in ways that are firm and consistent, but also kind, accepting and loving. Kids have a way of seeing through people so a step parent’s efforts must be genuine or the child will resist and possibly rebel.

And then there is the challenge of co-parenting with the biological parent. Sometimes the biological parent is resistant to the stepparent taking too much of a role in areas such as discipline, education and emotional well-being.  This can lead to hurt feelings and become a major source of conflict within the relationship if both parents are not flexible and reasonable. The step parent must respect the boundaries established by the biological parent, and the biological parent must respect the need of the step parent to be involved in decisions related to the child. This delicate balance can only be established and maintained through kind and patient communication.

Step parents are important. We become important figures in our step children’s, and our partners’ lives and it is up to us to respect both of those roles. We must understand that we are not, and never will be, that child’s biological parent but we are a parent. Our feelings cannot be hurt by the boundaries, roles and influence of the biological parents. We should strive to fit into the parenting system rather than to change the system entirely. Ask for what you need but be flexible and understanding.  And if, like me, you are blessed with a great step child and an amazing partner, be grateful and let them know how much you appreciate being a part of their system. Because, did I mention that being a step parent can be challenging?

Self-pity

Self-pity

Put simply, self-pity is you feeling sorry for you. It’s those times when life feels hard and you allow negative thinking to take over. It’s those times when you choose to focus on what is lacking in life rather than what is there. Self-pity is a feeling that leads to a lot of dysfunction. Self-pity leads to substance abuse, relationship problems, depression and anxiety. The medicine for self-pity is gratitude. Gratitude is appreciating the good rather than focusing on the bad. It is nearly impossible to feel self-pity when you are focusing on all the things for which you are grateful. So, when you notice that you are feeling down and focusing on the bad, take stock of all that you have. Be grateful and choose to think about the positive instead of the negative. Then, sit back and enjoy the change that takes place as your life becomes filled with more and more things for which to be grateful.

All about the money

All about the money

It’s amazing how often finances become a source of stress in marriages. Sometimes, it’s because there just isn’t enough money to pay the bills and sometimes it’s because one partner makes more money than the other. Sometimes it’s perceived spending habits and sometimes it’s just plain irresponsibility. However, other times, it’s because one partner wants to control the money and shuts the other partner out of all things having to do with finances. He or she begins opening one credit card to pay for another and hiding debt rather than talking about financial concerns. When asked about finances, the controlling partner deflects by launching a verbal assault designed to discourage asking any questions in the future. “Why don’t you trust me?” “All you care about is money!” “Why are you looking at the bank statements?” The asking partner learns quickly that any attempts to discuss finances will be met with extreme negativity, defensiveness, and aggression. Eventually the questions stop because who wants to fight all the time? And then things are fine, until they’re not. Watch out for people who demand to be in control and become belligerent when challenged.

People have different ideas about what to share with regard to finances in marriage. Some believe in sharing everything and others feel maintaining separate accounts is the way to go. My personal belief is that finances should be shared. I believe this because transparency is good for building trust, and trust is good for relationships. What do you think?

Where’s the metamorphosis?

Where’s the metamorphosis?

For many people, life has to become quite overwhelming, scary, frustrating or sad in order for the difficult decision to get sober to occur and stick. When a person makes that commitment to really try, often there are high expectations for the impact this decision will have on their life. Many feel so sure that because so many of their problems revolve around their substance use, quitting is sure to make life so much better. While it is true that sobriety does open the door to true happiness, it is unrealistic to think that it alone will get you there. One of my favorite sayings is, “Sobriety can’t get you to heaven, but it can release you from hell.” Getting sober is only the first step on the path. It then becomes necessary for the individual to figure out how to heal the wounds that have required covering up for so long. So, if you decide to get sober, feel good about that decision, but don’t expect that alone to solve all the problems in your life. However, know that you have taken the first and most important step on that journey. Enjoy the “Honeymoon period,” when that decision really does make you feel so much better. But, be prepared that more work lies ahead and that complacency becomes the enemy.

Why I hate alcohol

Why I hate alcohol

As I was watching a football game with my 8 year old son, a commercial came on for one of the most well known beers, and as I watched him watching the commercial, I felt an anxiety building in me. I asked him what thoughts he had about the commercial he had just watched and he said, “Well, it makes me want to drink beer.” My heart sank, but how could I blame him? The people on the commercial were having so much fun and looked so happy. Why wouldn’t he want that? He can even get beer cans with his favorite football team on them. And this is part of the reason why I hate alcohol.

I hate how normalized it is to drink in order to have fun. I hate how alcohol is the one drug that not using is looked upon more negatively than using. “Oh come on. Loosen up and have a drink.” Not many people have to explain over and over again why they choose not to smoke crack or inject heroin, but attend a party without an alcoholic drink in your hand and count how many times you must defend your decision. Decide to go from being a drinker to a non drinker and see how many of your “drinking friends” still want to hang out with you. Spending time with someone who doesn’t drink is threatening to the drinker’s psychology, and forces them to think about their own behavior. And who wants to do that when the goal is to escape reality and have fun?

I hate the effect that alcohol has on human beings and their relationships. I hate the false promises that turn to lies. I hate the irrational thinking, poor judgment, and the repetitive, emotion laden explanations it leads to. Let someone who is drinking feel they have wronged you and you will get 100 apologies no matter how easily you accept the first one. On the other end of the spectrum, let someone who has been drinking feel you have wronged them, and you will see the truly ugly side of humanity. If you don’t believe me, watch any episode of Cops and see what I mean. Ask almost any victim of domestic violence or child abuse if alcohol played any role in the abuse. You will see that alcohol brings out the worst in people.

Maybe it’s time we stop allowing big drug dealers (yes, alcohol is a drug) to brainwash our children into thinking that alcohol equals fun. Maybe it’s time to have commercials with mental health professionals explaining the dysfunctional role alcohol plays in so many people’s lives. Maybe we should have police officers, lawyers and judges explaining to kids the role that alcohol plays in crimes committed. Maybe we should make kids watch interviews of the families of the victims of drunk driving and domestic violence. These things will never happen because there is too much money to be made by continuing to convince our children that alcohol is good, not evil. Well, at least there’s that brief warning at the end of the commercials asking consumers to “drink responsibly.” Clearly, that’s working out great.

Many people will not like my hatred of alcohol but I’m OK with that. I’ll be the “party pooper,” the “buzz-kill,” or the Grinch who stole alcoholism. But when it’s your child lying in the hospital with pancreatitis, or drinking and driving, or abusing his or her children, or spouse, then perhaps it will make sense. Alcohol is evil, not good, and I don’t mean evil in any kind of biblical sense. I mean it is evil in that it ruins relationships and it ruins lives. And that is why I hate alcohol.

Like water

Like water

I often tell parents that I believe children are like water. Water will extend to the outer edges of whatever container into which it is poured. Water needs firm boundaries, and without it, it becomes an uncontrolled mess. Often, parents believe they are doing their child a favor by allowing the bending of, or the inconsistent enforcement of the rules in place in the home. What many parents don’t understand is that they are actually creating an uncertain world for the child. This will lead to the child pushing boundaries and not following rules. Kids, like water, will push to the absolute edge of what is allowed, but it is up to the parent whether that child continues to push past that point. Also, uncertainty and lack of consistency can create an anxious child who is unsure where his boundaries lie within his world. Kids need boundaries and consistency in order to feel safe.

Love your boys

Love your boys

Boys should be tough! Boys don’t cry! Boys don’t talk about their feelings. Our culture teaches young men that they will be valued for their toughness. Many parents, especially fathers, feel it is their duty to toughen up their boys in order to prevent them from being thought of as soft or weak. They don’t give the same affection, or freedom to feel, to their boys as they do to their girls. Those parents are wrong. Boys need all the same love and emotional freedom that girls do, and without it, their psychological development will be incomplete. So many of those “toughened up” boys grow up to be insecure men who are unable to exist peacefully and productively in this world. Jails and prisons are full of them. Loving your boys teaches them that they are worthy of giving and receiving love themselves. And that is the greatest gift a parent can give a child.

The anxious child

The anxious child
As adults, it can be difficult to remember the anxiety we felt as children. Even if we struggle with anxiety as adults, it is most certainly a different type of anxiety than we experienced as children. We may no longer fear the darkness. We may no longer believe in monsters or that aliens will come and get us. But we now know the fear of finances, aging, finding the right career, managing relationships, and so many other “adult” concerns. So how can we use our experiences and understanding of anxiety to support and love our children when they feel fear? How do we avoid letting the frustration of a child who can’t sleep turn from compassion to anger? I guess it helps to remember that no child chooses to feel afraid. Validate your child’s feelings and teach them to regulate their own emotions with deep breathing and positive imagery. And when we do feel ourselves move from compassion to anger, we should try those strategies on ourselves as well.