What’s your family “like?” Once or twice a day for the next week, look at your clan objectively and notice its complexity and contours. Try to view your life together as you would a group of strangers, and describe what you see. Write down at least ten adjectives or phrases that capture what your family “is like” by zeroing in on your values (what you believe in), venues (favorite activities and places), and (your challenges as a family)
For each category, we’ve given you some open ended sentences in bold and suggestions [in brackets] just to get you started. Don’t limit yourself; use words and phrases that fit your gang:
☐ Values. What’s your family ethic? What do you stand for?
“In our family it’s important to …” [have a spiritual life? be a leader? compete? do good deeds? make money? look good? eat well? follow rules? live off the land?]
☐ Venues. What activities do you like to do as a family? What kind of places that make you happy and hold the best memories? Where do you go to recharge?
“Our family loves to…” [be outdoors? play sports? go to movies? travel? go to the beach? play instruments? participate in community service? build things? read? travel? hang out at home with each other? volunteer? cook meals together?]
☐ Vulnerabilities. What is your family’s Achilles Heel?
“A weakness of our family is that…” [one person controls what everyone else does? it’s every man for himself? we don’t see enough of each other? we never talk about how we feel? we smother each other? we fight? we tolerate abusive behavior? we have few friends or relatives nearby? we have trouble making decisions? we are rigid? we over-schedule ourselves?]
Admittedly, it gets a bit tricky to answer in terms of your whole family. For example, let’s say everyone in your family plays a sport, and the family engages in a lot of sports talk. You go to each other’s games, watch sports on TV, and go on sports outings as a family. Maybe Mom or Dad coaches. It would make sense, then, to list sports–as “venue.” Perhaps sportsmanship would also be included among your family’s “values.” On the other hand, you could be a family that shows up at a Little League game week after week to support the one child who loves baseball and made the team. In that case, one of your family’s value is to support each other’s interests, but you might not think of the ball field as a family venue. There’s no “wrong” way to do this exercise. Whatever you write, you’ll come out with a clearer idea of how you “are” as a family.
If possible, have fun with this exercise by involving your partner (if you have one) and your children. Get the ball rolling by sharing your own observations out loud to other members of the family, in a lighthearted way. “Ever notice how we never get out of the house on time?” or “I realize that we start preparing for Halloween way before anyone else?” Then ask, “What do you think that says about us as a family?” Jot down what everyone says–and don’t be surprised if each of you comes to a different conclusion!
Almost every Dear Family Whisperer question I answer hits close to home, because I live and deal with many of the same issues. However, this week’s, “Overcoming Four Difficult Truths About Your Grandchild’s Parents,” was one of my most challenging to answer. In varying degrees–many less blatant–I’ve heard similar stories from other grandparents. More importantly, I’ve experienced the generational divide myself. I have and continue to inhabit many family roles: daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother, aunt, partner–and, most recently, grandmother, which might be the most challenging of all! Continue reading article →
The items below were adapted by from the “Authenticity Scale” used by researchers in England. In this form, it is not a “scientific” measurement, but the results can help you understand how authenticity might play out in your daily life. For each statement, give yourself a “score” between 1 (does not describe me at all) and 7 (describes me very well).
____ 1. “I think it is better to be yourself, than to be popular.”
____ 2. “I don’t know how I really feel inside.”
____ 3. “I am strongly influenced by the opinions of others.”
____ 4. “I usually do what other people tell me to do.”
____ 5. “I always feel I need to do what others expect me to do.”
____ 6. “Other people influence me greatly.”
____ 7. “I feel as if I don’t know myself very well.”
____ 8. “I always stand by what I believe in.”
____ 9. “I am true to myself in most situations.”
____10. “I feel out of touch with the ‘real me.’”
____11. “I live in accordance with my values and beliefs.”
____12. “I feel alienated from myself.”
This week, the Family Whisperer responded to a question from a mother who revisits her childhood summer home (“You Can’t Go Home but You Can Grow Up. Here’s How!”)
I never had that challenge–at least not with my parents. On my wedding night, my father told me he’d sold our summer house. I was disappointed, but part of me was also relieved.. I remembered what happened when my much-older siblings came for the summer with their families. Continue reading article →
This week’s Dear Family Whisperer column, “How To Not Be the “Bad Guy,” hit home. Times have changed–men are more involved in childcare today. To his credit, my husband loved kids and was more hands-on than many fathers in the 1970s. He took our children to the playground on Saturday mornings and, once, even held down the fort for nearly three weeks when I went to India. But for the most part I was “the heavy”–the bad cop– who decided what was good for the kids. Not surprisingly, when we became a “family apart,” still co-parenting but in separate households, our different standards and problem-solving approaches magnified.
I’ve since peeked into many other families’ lives and have come to understand that the push-me-pull-you between parents–married or divorced–can be better understood with “family think.” Continue reading article →
I’m sorry, but when I saw this headline on Huffington Post Parents…
Babywearing Ballet Class Is The Most Adorable Way To Dance
along with the above photo (from Babywearing Ballet), I had just the opposite reaction. Baby-wearing isn’t cute nor the best way for mothers to have fun–certainly not as much fun as ballet without a baby on your chest. Setting aside that the extra weight changes a woman’s center of gravity, the implication is that mothers should be “on duty” 24/7.
Seriously, wouldn’t it be MORE fun to do ballet and get back to your old self on your own? Wouldn’t the happy women in the photo find the camaraderie and the freedom of movement more enjoyable if didn’t have babies strapped on their chests? And wouldn’t it be better for their mental health to have an hour off–away from their babies–in a locale where they’re not tempted to catch up on household chores? Continue reading article →
Dear Family Whisperer,
After reading a recent article in the New York Times, “Learning Young the Gift of Helping Others,” I felt like I should be doing more to make my child “charitable.” But I can’t even get him to part with old toys. How can I teach him to be generous?”
I read the same article [click here]! To be sure, not every kid jumps at the chance to have a birthday party with no gifts or to send money earned raking leaves to some village in Africa. And yet, giving seems to be on the upswing according to reporter Paul Sullivan, who wrote the piece. Of those polled by Fidelity Charitable, which manages donor-advised funds, 94% said they “had taught or were teaching their children to give to charity.”
Although Sullivan is quick to admit that the sample is “skewed toward charitably inclined,” it’s no surprise that giving is on the upswing. Parents know — and researchers confirm — that generosity benefits the giver as much as the recipient. We want our kids to be good citizens. Also, we’re in the midst of a backlash to the ethos of the “priceless child,” moving (hopefully) towards the era of the “competent” child. How do we nudge that along?
The short answer: Giving is not something you “teach” children; it’s a value you adopt as a family. Continue reading article →
One of the exercises featured in the course—which I often utilize—was a simple yet profound way of getting “unstuck” by telling yourself the truth.
The Tell Yourself the Truth mantra (as I call it) is the single most important secret to working through any problem that pulls you up short—Whoa! moments, as they’re called in the book. A Whoa! moment can take you by surprise (a telephone call with bad news, a comment or action by a family member), or one can build up over time (something lingering on the edge of your consciousness that you finally have to deal with). Here is how the technique is described in Family Whispering (page 88): Continue reading article →