To build or destroy—this is the choice we have with our words every day, the watershed moments we face in those often undetectable pauses before we open our mouths (or keep them closed).
Some splits between parent and child come from something sudden or dramatic, but most broken ties develop gradually and stem from misunderstandings and less extreme, albeit hurtful, interactions. Let’s talk about what hope there might be if you are estranged from your parent or child. Here's what I recommend…
When a new couple reaches out for help, almost without exception, it quickly comes to light that the problems in the marriage, in large part, stem from this repeated proclamation, “Well, the kids have always come first.” Now here they sit on the counseling couch, and to some degree in a marriage run empty with one or both feeling neglected, unloved.
Being vulnerable can be difficult for anyone, but especially for men. While girls receive plenty of messages to keep their feelings under wraps, recent research continues to show how far society's masculinity soundtrack takes boys off course from connecting with their emotional side. I read an article this week in the New York Times called, Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls by Andrew Reiner. Even I, already sensitive to this issue, was blown away by the studies Reiner cited showing the damaging stereotypical messages boys receive to “man up,” often in concealed ways and starting as early as infants.
From the get-go, even before our son Jeremy was conceived, I felt a strong sense of purpose to raise a boy freed from the limitations of macho-based confidence. From the moment he was born, my parenting thought process was guided by this desire — to help our son be comfortable with his vulnerable emotions, nurture his innate empathy, and appreciate the true strength and courage in being real.
Our society often reinforces a belief system that resilience means suppressing emotions, pushing our way through. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist, says the opposite is true. Rather than suppressing difficult emotions and thoughts, we thrive by becoming Emotionally Agile, meaning “to be with ourselves and our emotions.”
How do we start teaching our sons they can have vulnerable emotions? Here are some tips to consider:
LISTEN WITH EMPATHY
Make it safe to share feelings. The best way to do this is to listen without rushing to a solution or judging. Sometimes our own fears get in the way and we get reactive when our kids feel upset. Just reflect and let the boy or man in your life know you understand. Be on the lookout for signs of fear or sadness, disappointment or insecurity. Ask open-ended questions, like “You seem upset, what’s going on?” “How was your day — what was the best and the worst part?” Actively listen, validate, show you understand and that you want to hear how he feels. It’s always good to show trust and belief in him and his ability to grow stronger from this experience.
MODEL EMOTIONAL OPENNESS
When we ourselves are comfortable with our emotions and our pain, and can express our needs and feelings in a proactive way, kids watch and pick up on this healthy emotional vibe. I asked Jeremy today, now 21, for his perspective on how we (hopefully) taught him, as a boy, to be in touch with his emotions. He texted, “The way you guys live. Anytime something is on your mind you guys tell it how it is— so we can understand, adjust and change if it’s a recurring thing.” Jeremy continued “ … to sit down and talk about things together, be it planning or issues that come up, this made for an evident culture of not holding things in.” While our kids still groan to us when they tease about our family meetings, apparently they were a good thing.
TEACH EMOTIONS 101
Find opportunities to drop little emotion lessons in here and there, first and foremost that emotions are not something to run from or fear. For example, something I learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah, “It’s a strength to 'be with' our pain and not run from it.” Another tidbit of truth: "When we get our feelings out, we feel more in control and less likely to blow up in the wrong place or in the wrong way.”
ENCOURAGE MUSIC, ART, LITERATURE, NATURE, ANIMALS, SPIRITUALITY
Our culture can send messages to boys that the liberal arts side of education is a feminizing idea. Boys have been known to tease and judge each other for these interests. Look for little seeds of interest in the arts or nature, animals or music — and pour on the support. Our son is convinced that his passion for music, and being encouraged to pursue his musicianship, helped him connect to his softer side. He said, “it was easier for me to find my emotions through music.” Sports and video games have their place but they don’t typically open your heart the way the arts and nature do. If spirituality or religion is a part of your life, being open with this in your home, sharing about your journey & what you are learning-- this can help encourage inward turning.
BUY HIM A JOURNAL
Journaling is the tool I suggest most for my clients, more than any other tool, across age, gender and the personal or relationship issue that brings them in. Don’t push it, but suggest a journal or log. Writing our thoughts and feelings down awakens the inner communication channels — and can make it easier to express to others once you’ve gotten more clear of your own inner voice. Identifying our thoughts and feelings can give us a greater sense of control making us less likely to respond with our knee-jerk reaction.
REMIND HIM TO SPEAK FROM HIS HEART
When my husband and I first got married, I soon noticed that it was hard for him to be real. He would ask me for advice on giving a talk at work or writing a card to a friend or family. All I had to say was, “Speak from your heart.” And the perfect message would come through.
FIND A GIRL MENTOR
Whether that’s an older sister, a neighbor or cousin, having a girl close to your son’s age in his life can really make a difference. Not his mom who is miles away generationally, a young positive girl mentor can teach your son how to treat a girl with respect and sensitivity. If she’s mature enough and willing, she can help model how it’s cool to talk about feelings sometimes.
Strengthening our connection with our fathers--directly or indirectly, physically or metaphysically--opens important channels of success and happiness in our lives. From all sides of the family dynamic, read on for some suggestions to consider to help fathers and their children create a stronger connection.
Of all our family ties, the mother-daughter one tends to remain important through adulthood. With life expectancy ever increasing, we mothers and daughters will only continue to spend more of our lives together as adult women. What a great opportunity to invest in making this bond an even greater source of strength and growth.
When I work with couples in my counseling practice, time and time again, I see one or both struggle with some kind of anxiety, depression or other mental health disorder. While not a deal breaker by any means, unresolved mental health problems can lie at the heart of couples’ greatest friction and disconnection.
Inherently tricky to navigate for many, in-law strife shows up most especially between mothers- and daughters-in-law. And pouring into the mix the degree of conflict and division from our unprecedented election year 2016, the views and dynamics among all family members- especially in-laws, makes for quite a vulnerable time. Here are some tips to help make the holidays and this relationship go more smoothly this year, and from now on.
Teens need a healthy attachment more than ever during this trial and error phase of life. The more we stay close and connected to our teens (not to be confused with hovering or controlling), the better we can support them emotionally. Through our attachment, we equip them with a compass as they find their own truth and strength, and decision making power.
We all love to weigh in when in comes to critiquing others' parenting moves and styles, but ask most moms and dads in the thick of raising young people today, and even the brightest, most confident among us will admit (at least privately) that it's the hardest job on the planet. Parenting is not a black and white business, and is certainly not for sissies.
There is hope for couples facing infidelity. The Key is EFFORT, HONEST COMMUNICATION, PATIENCE and WILLINGNESS TO GROW! When an affair becomes discovered it often serves as the beginning of a vital growing and healing process, for each individual partner and for the relationship itself. Many come out of the infidelity crisis stronger and more committed. While I don’t recommend affairs, a majority actually survive the affair.