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
Dear Family Whisperer,
My sister and I are a year and a day apart; I’m the older one. Until I was 13 years old (and went away to boarding school), my mother planned our birthday parties together, so she would only have to deal with one event. I hated it. I guess it was the practical thing to do, but it wasn’t like celebrating MY birthday. I never felt special on that day. We had only one cake with both names on it. Sometimes, our friends gave us only one present that we had to share. We’re now in our fifties–it’s taken us almost that long to get past our differences. Maybe having our own birthday parties might have helped me (I can’t speak for her) be less resentful–or maybe not. I don’t have children, only nephews and nieces. But if I did, I’d never force them to share a birthday celebration. What would you do?
–Cheated Adult Child
Dear Cheated Adult Child
Having children born 3½ years apart (now grown and therefore throwing their own birthday parties!), I never had to deal with this problem. But based on a quick search of the Internet, apparently many parents weigh the pros and cons of joint birthday parties for kids.
Their decisions are often colored by their own childhood memories, which run the gamut from sweet (“The most memorable birthday parties were the ones my parents threw for us together”) to bitter. One, in fact, sounds a lot like you: “My parents made the incorrect assumption that we wouldn’t mind sharing parties from age one to twelve. Starting at age five, we did mind. A lot.” Others remark casually, “It’s all I knew. That’s how it was in our family.”
Today’s parents plan joint birthdays for the same reason your mother did: it’s convenient, cheaper, and theoretically easier than throwing two parties. But their online ruminations suggest that they worry about making the right choice. Continue reading article →
Dear Family Whisperer
I cannot seem to navigate the bumpy landscape of parenting differences between my brother’s and my family. We LOVED the idea of our kids growing up together as cousins and spent a lot of time during the baby years. Our differences were obvious then and have become even more so. They allow a lot of technology in their home, they eat differently and their discipline is very different. That’s their choice, but I don’t want to be called out because of what I do or don’t do — for example, let my 4-year-old wear lip gloss. My niece and nephew run amok in my home, and nobody corrects them. Worse still, my brother and sister-in-law get angry if my husband or I say something (“We don’t use language like that here, darling”). If we ask the kids not to pick up the dog (which we repeatedly have to do) or bring popsicles into the living room, the parents roll their eyes. If they don’t correct their children, what choice do we have? They seem angry at us for our (by today’s standards) more conservative lifestyle, and it has driven a wedge between us. I don’t see why we can’t just respect each other’s boundaries and house rules, and support each other.
-Stressed Out Sister/Sister-in-law
The “wedge” you describe is a matter of family “style.” You perceive the world differently from your brother and sister-in-law. When you see lip gloss on a young child you think inappropriate; they think cute. You have different levels of tolerance for chaos and disarray. No wonder spending time in each other’s homes has become increasingly challenging!
The best way to “navigate” your differences is to acknowledge that you can’t change them. You can’t control anyone’s beliefs or behavior except your own. But if you start to act more accepting and respectful, your brother and sister-in-law might, too. Continue reading article →
We do everything we can for our kids — a girl, now 5, and a boy, 3. They are our number one priority. But we have let slip time as a couple, and I am unsure how to balance it out so we all get what we need. Is it even possible with two kids and a busy mum and dad? Our son possibly has ADHD (not diagnosed and not sure we will even go down the assessment route yet), but that at times makes it even harder to keep the focus on all of us, not just one member. Any tips would be great!
Dear Lonely Wife,
Your relationship is the foundation on which your family rests. Of course, you need to take care of your kids. But of the most effective child-rearing strategies, “stress management” (taking care of yourself) and “having a good relationship with the other parent” (taking care of your marriage) are second only to love and affection.
Being parents is challenging, especially when a child has a problem. One study found that couples whose children had ADHD were twice as likely to divorce. That doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. But it’s reason to consciously allot some of your family “resources” — time, attention, and energy- – to your relationship. You need each other to sort through the confusion and make good choices. Continue reading article →
Asking a parent whether he or she has a favorite is a loaded question. Just thinking about it makes some parents uneasy. One woman seemed angry:
Sorry but you can’t have a favorite child. That’s not right!”
We’re not supposed to “play favorites”–treat one child better than the others. The mother who wrote this answer represents what I sense is the popular view:
Every child is special in their own way. You love one for the softness of her heart. You love the next for his strength. You love all your children for where they are.
Dear Family Whisperer,
It’s the same every year. They bring me breakfast in bed, and I get a 24-hour break from my normal routine. It’s as if my husband has been replaced by an alien who does the dishes without reminding. The kids hand me homemade cards that bring tears to my eyes. But what about the rest of the year? The other 364 days, I’m constantly schlepping, catching up on chores, remembering and reminding. I often feel alone and overwhelmed. Sometimes, I try to get my DH to do more and the kids, who are 8 and 11, to at least clean their own rooms. But mostly, I just accept that I’m stuck with the whole enchilada. What else can I do?
Dear Resentful Mom,
There is a different way that will change your perspective and your attitude: Adopt a family-centered version of “motherhood.” When they wake you with a tray of pancakes and roses and handmade cards this year, thank them and tell them how much you appreciate them. But also use the moment to usher in a new year of family consciousness in which everyone — not just you — is responsible for getting through the day. Your children (and DH) can do more than you realize.
Start with these five important resolutions that will make your life easier throughout the year, improve your marriage, help your kids become capable and competent and make your family stronger as well.
1. I will remind myself that I matter. There’s an “I” in family — a collection of them. Each I deserves to get what he or she needs… including you! Like many women, you’ve probably internalized the message that “mothering” means Doing It All. But think of the “lessons” you are inadvertently teaching the future adults in your household — your children.
This piece was written for Shareable.net. As the site’s “About” page puts it, “Millions of people are already winning in life by working together.” What better place for the “sharing transformation” to starts than in your own family.
It’s no secret that the owners of card stores, florists, restaurants, and phone companies benefit most from Mother’s Day. For the economy, it’s the third biggest spending period of the year (after Christmas and back-to-school). But, for many mothers, it’s a mixed blessing.
Even in 2014, the woman — by choice or by default — often assumes the thankless role of “Designated Doer.” On Mother’s Day, she gets a 24-hour break from the normal routine. Dad does dishes without reminding, and the kids give her cards that bring tears to her eyes. But what about the other 364 days? Where is everyone when it comes to errands, chores, remembering, and reminding?
It doesn’t have to be that way…. [Read more at Shareable]
How do you get an egocentric 3 ½ year old to engage with the concept of family? At the moment it’s ALL about him. If, for example, DH [dear husband] or I are trying to do write the weekly food shopping list and DS [dear son] wants to do something else, he repeatedly whines at us,”But I want to do X.” I know we should be getting him to help out, but there are only a few things he’ll help with and other things he absolutely won’t! He is pretty stubborn (his preschool teacher say this too) and only likes to do what he likes to do. He does fully understand about helping, he’s great at sharing and has good empathy, so I’m sure he can “get it,” but we’re at a loss about how to do it!
-Mother of a “King Baby”
Dear Mother of a “King Baby,”
My colleague, the late Tracy Hogg, warned new parents not to allow their infant to become “King Baby.” Young children see the world through me-me-me eyes and yours already seems savvy about getting his way. He feels eclipsed by a shopping list because it’s not about him.
But we shouldn’t fault his age or personality or even how you’ve parented him. Self-centeredness is part of the human condition. We adults aren’t necessarily less inclined to unleash our “egocentric tendencies.” We are simply more efficient than children at correcting our self-centeredness.
Dear Family Whisperer,
How can I get my in-laws to mind their own business regarding my child-rearing philosophies?
– Annoyed Daughter-in-law
Dear Annoyed Daughter-in-law,
A great question–and an age-old family dilemma. In-laws–for better or worse. At best they’re like parents (assuming you get along well with your parents!) At worst, you feel they’ve always got an eye on you, saying or implying, “That’s not how I’d do it.” Think Robert deNiro, playing Ben Stillrt’s father-in-law in Meet the Fockers.
Parenting has become an Olympic sport. If you’re like most moms today, you’re already self-conscious and stressed out. And if that’s the case, the mere hint of disagreement from your MIL might tap into your worst fear: I’m not doing this right.
Instead of worrying about your mother-in-law’s judgment, focus on improving your relationship. That will change everything.
The key to making and maintaining any relationship—with our partners, our children, or our “other significant others” (parents, siblings, in-laws)—is to get “REAL.” REAL stands for four critical traits that makes us “better” at relationships: responsibility, empathy, authenticity, and love. So, in dealing with your MIL, you need to;
1) Take responsibility. All relationships are the “co-creation” of two people. The connection between you and your mother-in-law isn’t just about her. You also bring something to the table. Figure out what it is. Then, try to slow yourself down and before you say or do anything, ask yourself, Is this going to better our relationship? If the answer is no, edit yourself.
2) Be empathetic. Step in her shoes, understand where she’s coming from. And while you’re at it, cut her some slack. People often criticize what they don’t understand.
3) Be authentic. Be a real person whom your MIL can get to know. Talk about what matters to you, how you came to be who you are. You don’t have to apologize for the way you parent. Just calmly state how you do things. Listen, too. You don’t have to do or agree to anything that goes against who you are but you might find some kernels of truth and wisdom in your MIL’s perspective.
4) Lead with love. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Come from the wisest, most mature part of yourself—the part that wants a good relationship. Your MIL is a stranger in many respects-all you have in common are her son and her grandchildren (which is to say a lot). If you get to know her better, and she gets to know you, things between you won’t be quite as black and white.
Your relationship will never be “perfect”—no relationship is. But if you work at it, you will find common ground (your child, her grandchild), and you can—ideally—learn from each other.
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email us at DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured here and on the Huffington Post! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You’ll find more in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.
I’ve read your last few columns and need your help. I have two children, a 12-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. Their father, my husband, was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The current medical plan is chemo and radiation in hopes of extending his life. During those treatments, the doctors expect that he will be tired, in pain and most likely experience hair loss. I have no idea how to begin to tell my children about what is happening and what’s to come. I feel like I am in mourning myself and won’t be able to help them. I feel like I am drowning.
You’re not “drowning” alone. Your husband and children are also trying to tread water. Even if you haven’t yet told them, your kids feel the presence of something different. When serious illness invites itself into a household, all of you are affected. What to tell the kids is only one small piece of a complex puzzle. The challenge is considering everyone’s different needs and dealing with it together.
Start with your partnership. Try to listen empathically and without judgment. Respect each other’s style of crisis management as you tackle the hard questions: How will you get information? Whom will you tell and ask for help? How will you plan for contingencies?
You of course want to “spare” your husband more pain, but be careful not to shut him out. For example, if you’re the better researcher, don’t automatically take over. Ask. Your husband might prefer that you take on the lion’s share of reading, note-taking and phone calls. Or, not — this is <em>his</em> cancer. What matters most is that you respect and support each other. Being in synch as partners will make you better parents, too.
You might feel like “circling the wagons,” but don’t go it alone. “There is comfort and grace in allowing others to help,” offers a cancer survivor. Ask family and friends to listen and pitch in. Talk to other patients and their partners, to a lay or spiritual counselor, and to a lawyer and/or an accountant who can guide you in contemplating the future. And don’t forget to take care of you — the often-overlooked “well spouse“.
When you tell the kids, refer to other times when you pulled together as a family (“Billy was rushed to the ER — and we all kept calm“) and when family members and close friends helped (“Uncle Rick let us use his car after the accident“). Encourage questions and answer what they ask. Be honest. Dad might feel sick after treatment; he might lose his hair; he might get angry or sad.
Solicit their opinions (“Would you rather have Aunt Sara or Josie come when I take Dad to his doctor appointments?”). Stress that you and Dad are taking care of business but that they can be helpful, too — by being extra quiet when Dad comes home from his treatments, supporting each other instead of fighting and offering to take over household jobs without being asked. Share the news with teachers and coaches. Your children need a support system, too.
Children who are informed and respected tend to rise to the occasion. Yours might become suddenly kinder and seem older. They also might get sad or angry. Personality and age will affect their reactions. Your son might tell just a few close friends. Your daughter might share the news with her entire class. At 12, he probably understands that doctors can’t cure Dad; at 6, she might have more difficulty grasping future realities.
As much as you can, stick to your usual routine. Your “new normal” should incorporate whatever you usually do — kids’ games, pancakes on Sunday, play dates and sleepovers, an annual July 4th picnic. When Dad can’t attend, take photos or videos and watch them together.
Seize small moments of pleasure. If your kids like a particular TV show, watch it with them. If Dad’s always wanted to go to a Monster Truck show, now’s the time to have an adventure. Use silliness to relieve stress — like the divorced mom who made everyone eat dinner without utensils and called it “Pig Night.” Laughter is always good medicine.
This a difficult and all-consuming trial for your family. You can’t change your husband’s diagnosis, and there’s no magic bullet for the powerlessness you all feel. But by cleaving together, you give shelter to each other-and gain a collective strength that becomes part of who you are as a family.
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email us at DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured on the Huffington Post! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children are welcome. These columns are brief. You’ll find more in FAMILY WHISPERING, co-authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. For more info, check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.