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A friend sent me a link to a craigslist’s ad for a unique employment opportunity that she described as fascinating, sad, and perturbing. A family was advertising for a mental health professional to serve as a full-time “companion, guide, life coach, mentor, governess type for their 16 year old child… to help with her school-work, social skills, etiquette and protocol. Help guide her to the next level in life by creating gentle but firm ground rules.”


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My initial reaction was also to be fascinated and perturbed. I wondered what had happened to undermine the ability of these parents to give their child all of those things that they were now willing to pay someone else to do. Having raised four children myself, I am fully aware of the challenges. As we know, kids don’t come with a manual and despite our best efforts they persist in making their own way in the world. Bumps, bruises, tears and hair pulling are all part of the package.

But this ad seemed so extreme:

    Is this the cutting edge of services for the wealthy?
    Has parenting become so difficult that we need a professional degree to get it right?

Wealth Does Not Guarantee Good Parenting

It was clear from the ad that this family was privileged with lots of advantages and resources at their disposal. Yet their wealth had not provided immunity from life’s problems. The applicant needed to have experience with troubled youth, challenged individuals, broken homes and estranged parents. Sounds familiar.

The media is filled with stories of affluent young people who are drowning despite (because of?) having all the advantages. Many seem unable to live a life of substance and meaning. There are also extraordinary young people from all social classes who are thriving and contributing positively to society. Gift that it is, affluence apparently has the power to build or destroy. What makes the difference? No one sets out to ruin their children. Is there anything that parents can do to develop character, values, and a commitment to living a life of purpose?

Helpful Guidelines to Raise Your Kids Right

Most people fall into a parenting style that fits with their beliefs, experiences, and personalities. But social science research does have something to add. Those who study parenting have identified ways that parents can make a difference. They have observed that even good parents often fail to use these guidelines consistently and well.

Here are four recommendations to help parents raise well-adjusted kids:

1. Avoid over-protectiveness.

Parents today can’t stand to see their children struggle, suffer or make mistakes. They step in to manage everything from homework to playground conflicts. As a result their kids have no experience resolving problems, dealing with disappointment, or managing themselves. How in the world will they be prepared to handle adulthood? Resilient kids know that they will not fall apart when they make mistakes and have set-backs. Let your kids fend for themselves whenever possible. They can handle more than you realize.


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2. Model concern for others.

Too much emphasis today is put on kid’s individual achievements. Parents are obsessed with their grades, athletic prowess, SAT scores, musical performance. Have you ever spent time with a group of parents whose kids are applying to college? It’s all they can talk about. It borders on obsessive disorder. No wonder kids believe that it’s all about them and some experts are saying we are in the middle of an epidemic of narcissisim.

Expose your kids to the idea that they can contribute to the well-being of others. This starts in the home.

  • How are they contributing to the family?
  • Their work responsibilities should include more than homework and practicing their talents.

  • What are they doing in their community to better the lives of others?
  • Provide exposure to the needs of the world.

3. Use rewards and punishments judicially and specifically.

Too many parents misuse both praise and punishment. Instead of using appropriate consequences, they use too many words. They nag, lecture, then yell, none of which is effective. When you punish, do it immediately, mildly, and briefly. Many parents wait too long to levy consequences and then dole punishment that is too severe. Time-out, grounding, and loss of privileges should sting, but not linger. Both praise and punishment should be specific to the behavior; not to the person.

4. Have fun together!

Most important of all is your ability to love and connect. Have you noticed that you can’t force your children to have fun with you? It has to come organically and is easiest to maintain when it starts early. Build fun in when your kids are small and want to be with you. It will make it easier when adolescence hits. Do things together as a family – go to movies, take hikes, snowboard, play music together. You won’t regret the time spent.

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It is paradoxical that love requires us to let go of our kids to let them explore, make mistakes, think divergently, and be themselves. The world delivers lots of life lessons than we cannot give them. If we make our homes more consistent with the way they will be treated in the rest of the world, that will help them find their way as adults. Help them become contributors to life, not just consumers. They will be happier as a result!

CC photo courtesy of Michele Tesolin

 
As a young person, this question was often posed in my family around the dinner table. Sometimes the answer could be as simple as the fact that we had shared a treat, helped the teacher, learned a new skill, or was friendly to someone who needed it.  As I look back, I see that it had a powerful influence on my siblings and me. We were reminded that every day was an opportunity to make a difference in the world.  It also taught us that you didn’t have to have fame, fortune, and power in order to matter. Even kids could do something worthy. In this simple conversation we shared and reinforced my parent’s values and learned to respect each other. I have always had confidence that my brothers and sisters have strength of character and are sources of good in the world.

Much is made of philanthropy these days.  Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others are role models for how individuals can make investments in the world that really change lives and even whole societies.  I read an article yesterday about some of the young tech crowd who are using their wealth to achieve social ends rather than buy big homes and cars.  It is wonderful to see that young people of means can do more than party hard. I applaud their admirable values and generosity.

But do you have to be mega wealthy in order to make a difference?

Given my family’s dinner conversation you can guess that my stance is that everyone can and most do contribute to the world everyday.  We see it not only in random acts of kindness, but also in the civility that governs our interactions, the products of our work that make life easier and better for others, the beauty added in our landscaping, and the sparks of fun that we enjoy as we walk through our days with our friends and family.

I have a French bulldog named Sadie. She is a goofy looking dog. Walking through my neighborhood with her is a treat.  It’s a rare person that doesn’t react to her friendly overtures. There are lots of homeless people in my part of downtown but Sadie doesn’t discriminate between them and the middle class tourists from Iowa. It is amazing to see how they all respond to her slobbery affection.  If Sadie can make a difference in the world, surely we can too.

So tonight around your dinner table, let the conversation be about what a difference you each made today!

A Good Enough Parent Is a Better Parent

This morning&#146s news included a story about a restaurant in Pennsylvania that is closing its doors to children under six. This decision was the result of too frequent unchecked, bad manners and disturbances created by the pre-K set. In this situation, the parents are largely to blame for their children&#146s disruptive behavior. An upscale restaurant is a challenging setting for a child under five. Parents sometimes can become too focused upon their child. For them, their child is the center of the universe. But not so for the rest of us. Parents often lose sight of the consequences for children raised under the gaze of such adoring eyes when they fail to get that same reaction from the rest of the world.

As a result of my many years of clinical practice with children and adolescents I&#146ve come to the conclusion that it is better to aim at being a good enough parent than to be a great parent.

Here’s why:

&#147Great&#148 parents in today’s affluent middle class culture want to create a perfect world for their children. They want them to be happy above all else. They desire emotional expressiveness and a close emotional tie to their children. As a result they give them a distorted view of reality and of themselves. Many parents give their kids too much attention, too much &#147positive reinforcement,&#148 too much stuff and too few responsibilities and challenges. They fail to prepare them for the reality that both the world and they themselves are not perfect.

Have you ever sat through a little league game? Parents are falling all over themselves to distract their kids from noticing that they didn&#146t perform well. Do they really think little Harry didn&#146t notice that he struck out? The parents&#146 denial sends the message to the kid that poor performance is so awful that you have to pretend that it didn’t happen.

Is this good preparation for life? Many supervisors of the twenty-somethings who were raised in the self esteem era find it very difficult to deliver any kind of constructive feedback. These young adults are just not prepared to hear that their performance could use improvement. They have a lot to learn and they did not know it all by the age of 14 nor by the end of their college education. They will continue to make lots of mistakes in life and not everyone will love them. None of these facts should be a surprise or an indicator that there is something wrong with their life.

In large part I blame my own profession of psychology for spreading the idea that above all else, our children should be happy. We mental health professionals mistakenly instructed parents to bathe their children in a continual solution of positivity. But such attempts to shield children from the adversity of life do not lead to a healthier person. Instead, they lead to kids who believe that there is a reality that doesn&#146t include pain and suffering. Eventually this catches up to them when they begin to notice for themselves that they aren&#146t always happy. The inevitable life bumps can feel so overwhelming that they can’t recover from them.

In a related vein, I don’t think it is good for kids to constantly be the center of attention. Parents who spend all their time watching their kids perform academically, athletically, artistically without expecting them to contribute in kind are in danger of raising little narcissists. There is more to life than our own quest for personal achievement.

Clearly, I am not talking about all parents. There are parents at the other end of the spectrum who are cruel, neglectful, uncaring and even abusive. These parents would also do well to strive to be good enough!

5 Ways to be a good enough parent:

  1. Be warmly involved with your children.
  2. Delight in discovering who they are. This is different than obsessively trying to shape them into your model of who they should be.   Be curious and interested in their personalities and interests.

  3. Have high (but realistic) expectations for their good behavior.
  4. They will usually rise to the opportunity to prove you right. If your style is to point to all the negative things that could happen, you could very likely heighten the anxiety of sensitive kids or raise the rebelliousness of those who are independent. Neither of these is a positive outcome. Good mentoring will help them to have a realistic vision that fits with their personalities and gifts.

  5. Let your children experience desire for something.
  6. Then let them work for it. I&#146ve known too many kids who have never really wanted anything very badly because everything was given to them before they even knew how much they wanted it: cell phones before adolescence, brand new cars at sixteen, trips to Europe. Nothing they could give themselves was ever going to compete with what they had already been given. Trying to find motivation to shape a life is extremely difficult under such circumstances.

  7. Raise your expectations about your kid&#146s ability to fend for themselves.
  8. They can fight their own fights, do their own homework, make their own sandwich. Even let them fail sometimes and experience the consequences.

  9. Let them experience their own power to contribute to the well-being of the family.
  10. What do they do that makes life better for someone else? Do they think about anything but their own achievements? By the time they reach the age of independence (e.g. going off to college) they ought to be proficient at managing money, housekeeping, child care, car maintenance, laundry, and the social graces. Begin teaching them in pre-school. If you take care of everything for them and then suddenly change your expectations at puberty, you and they will be very frustrated by the results.

Imperfectly parenting my imperfect children has been one of the great joys of my life. I am often thrown by parents who talk about falling out with their children as if it is inevitable. It just isn&#146t true. But if we lead our children to believe that they are privileged to a life of enchantment, or that it is possible to live our days in a state of perfection without mistakes, failure, or suffering, they would be right to come back at us for betraying them.

Our current cultural standards for parenting are very demanding. There is a lot of pressure on parents today to be &#147great.&#148 The result can be that our parenting becomes contaminated by perfectionism. Setting yourself the goal of being a good enough parent may be a healthy way out for both parents and children.

What are your thoughts on this? Please comment below.

Recently we discussed the difference between technical and adaptive change. We identified that one of the reasons our attempts to change fail is because we apply technical solutions to adaptive change problems. We prefer technical solutions because they don’t demand as much from us. Adaptive change requires sustained energy, a willingness to make mistakes and lots of practice. It can even cause some pain and loss.

For all these reasons, we usually need to draw on resources outside of ourselves in order to engage in adaptive change. Have you noticed how we become more like our closest friends over time? If I can only give people one piece of advice about how to make a change, I’ll recommend that they surround themselves with people who embody that change. If you want to do a better job of managing stress, hang out with people who are mellow. Chances are pretty good that you’ll get better at it too.

Join the Crowd

 
“Do you see yonder cloud that is almost in the shape of a camel?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet of Polonius. “Tis like a camel indeed,” replies Polonius. “Methinks it is like a weasel,” says Hamlet a moment later. “It is backed like a weasel,” acknowledges Polonius. “Or like a whale?” wonders Hamlet. “Very like a whale,” agrees Polonius.

So, why does Polonius so readily agree every time Hamlet changes his mind?

The issue of conformity has often been addressed within Western culture as a dysfunction of behavior. Going along with the crowd has been seen as a weakness. Yet it is fundamentally within our human nature to wish to be part of a larger community. Other cultures don’t see this as a weakness but as a natural and respected aspect of our humanity. They see that there are good reasons to temper our individual impulses with the wisdom of the larger group. So why not use this to our advantage? Why not align ourselves with a healthy community that is engaged in living a life that we admire?

Why is community so helpful?

One reason is that community provides a mirror of sorts. We have a hard time seeing ourselves clearly. We overemphasize both our failings and our successes. Another is that it provides encouragement and accountability while we risk something new. We stick with the familiar. The unknown is almost always more anxiety provoking than what we know; even if what we know is slowly killing us. Mistakes make us uncomfortable. Doing something new involves being a beginner again. Finally, community gives us support when we hit the skids. Change almost always includes loss and we don’t like loss; even the loss of something/someone who is hurting us.

Trusted friends and advisors, a community of practice or professional guidance are often good supports. They help us see more clearly, offer encouragement, hold us accountable, and celebrate our success.

Does your community support or undermine your desire for change?

Maria Shriver’s brief public statement about her own life transition on YouTube in March is all the more poignant after the formal announcement of her separation from Arnold Schwarzeneger.

Maria is not alone in experiencing transition. It seems like everyone is going through it these days, including myself. As we hit our 40’s and 50’s and anticipate a longer life (at least three decades longer than lifespans 100 years ago), the question of what kind of a life we want to live in the next 1/2 to 1/3 of the life we have left naturally arises. Since she asked for suggestions and advice, we thought we would take her up on it.

Here’s our advice for Maria Shriver and anyone else who wants to survive a life transition and flourish:

  1. First, congratulate yourself that you made it!

  2. It took a lot of honesty and the courage to get where you are. Many don’t make it to this point. Instead, they languish in their current circumstances and can’t transition. And as tempting as it might be to become the next new cougar on your block, that probably isn’t the way forward.

  3. Sort out where you are now.

    This is both more important and more difficult than it seems, especially for accomplished people. You may need a special GPS for this one.

  4. Take the time and don’t rush the process.

    It took 50 something years to get to this point; it probably can’t be resolved in a few days.

  5. Reclaim and refocus your identity.

    This means more than just returning to a moment in your past or creating something completely new. Who is it that you want to become that is a more authentic version of you?

  6. Find a professionally qualified guide.

    You need someone who can provide a safe, confidential space for you. As much as friends and family want to help, you need professional guidance that is both qualified and objective. An outsider can offer the insight you need to help you continue your journey. To do so, they will need to know you intimately (your personal story, your family, your career, spirituality and contribution [emerging legacy]) and also have access to the best assessment tools. They will need to blend old world wisdom and new world science.

  7. Beware of common cultural mythologies or easy solutions.

    These are often based upon bad understandings of what people need to live a good life.

  8. Embrace change, no matter how painful.

    We have fallen in love with techniques, as though they will change us. We all know down deep that techniques aren’t the answer. For example, as good as meditation may be, it won’t change a person’s entire life. Adaptive change will. It gets at the systems of our life and behaviors, but the process is longer and painful at times. There are no shortcuts.

  9. Interpret your experience well.

    It is great to collect other people’s stories of transition, but as you know, it is difficult to generalize from another’s experience. Experience has to be interpreted to make sense. Your life is unique to you. Your family history, biology, experiences, spirituality, influences, exposure have all contributed to who you are. It is a custom-made life. Generic answers won’t help that much; they always require translation.

  10. Make the right transition for you.

    Transition is age appropriate. We all go through transitions at various times and need different things at each stage. For example, the transition for an 18-year old from high school to college involves a different set of issues than one by an accomplished woman in her 50’s. We may feel like we are still 18, but we need more than what an 18-year old lifestyle can sustain. Men clearly struggle with this one.

  11. Seek good community support.

    A supportive community can play a positive role in transition. As you move from a public to a more private life, surround yourself with a group of people you admire—people who are living well, are not self-centered, who are growing and developing in positive ways. The Bible (Jewish and Christian) and social scientists agree on this point. The community we choose to hang with has a profound influence on us.

  12. Avoid well-intentioned limitations.

    Your established community (family, friends) can also play a negative role, because they think they know you. They will mean well, but they can attempt to shape and influence you in ways that merely reinforce the very things that need to change for you to make your way out the other side.

  13. Discover where you find meaning, purpose and flow.

  14. Live a simple, beautiful life that is rich in complexity and meaning.

A major transition often brings the big, important questions and issues about the meaning and purpose of life back to the surface. It provides an opportunity–to take stock, refocus and hopefully change. We wish you well on this new phase of your journey.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” E. M. Forster

We will continue to add to our list. What would you suggest is missing? Please let us know below!

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Are you someone who generally likes other people? Are you hopeful about the future of the human race? Or are you cynical? Do you see the darker side of people? According to one person who studies such things, (see, for example, D.E. Brown, and his book, Human Universals) there are good reasons for either position. Those things that are seen in every culture (though not in every individual) are considered to be part of our core human nature. Here are some of the things I like best about the human race that can be found in every known society; past or present.

12 Reasons I Like People

  1. We give each other gifts. Unlike my puppy and her littermate who do their best to possess every stick & stone in the yard, young children often offer their most prized possession even to newly met strangers. So sweet!
  2. We attempt to heal the sick. Whether our methods are based on folklore or modern medicine, every society has specialists in the art of healing. There is something beautiful about the desire to relieve suffering and restore health to others.
  3. We admire generosity and disapprove of stinginess. The older I get the more I think that being generous may be the key to life.
  4. We take turns and cooperate. So much of the orderly running of society depends on this simple interaction. Think what chaos would ensue if we all rushed and pushed to get to the goal. On the flipside, it’s sad we are losing our civility.
  5. We have special occasions, (usually with speeches which can be either good or bad depending upon the speaker’s ability to entertain :).
  6. Individuals are considered responsible for their actions. ‘Nuff said, Osama.
  7. We dance, sing, tell stories and write poetry. (Even when we have no talent!)
  8. We pretend. Imagination is not only the basis of playfulness, its also essential for solving complex problems.
  9. Affection for others is felt and is expressed. Can there be too much of this?
  10. We distinguish between right and wrong; good and bad.
  11. We feel empathy. While we are born with the capacity for empathy, it also is one of the ways we grow with our own suffering.
  12. We share food and are hospitable, even with our adversaries!

And 12 Reasons I Don’t!

As you can well imagine, there are also universals in human behavior that are deeply disturbing. These continue to be the cause of suffering and misery across human societies. Despite centuries of education and socialization we seem to be unable to eliminate these characteristics from our humanity.

  1. Every culture has some form of proscribed violence including murder.
  2. We seek revenge or retaliation.
  3. We make weapons.
  4. Rape occurs in every human society.
  5. We overestimate the objectivity of our thought.
  6. Crying is universal among humans.
  7. There is discrepancy between what we say, what we think, and how we act.
  8. Domination and submission are recognizable roles.
  9. There are economic inequalities.
  10. We envy what others have.
  11. We have in-groups that are preferred to out-groups.
  12. Language is used to manipulate others.

What do you like and/or despair about the human race?

Any approach to understanding and working with people that neglects either our capacities for good or our capacities for evil are bound to fail. We’ll discuss this more fully in later posts.

 

Would you want to be Will or Kate? It’s hard not to envy their position in the world, all their wealth, beauty, and cool stuff. But they’re going to hit the skids just like the rest of us. What advice would you give the newlyweds? In the spirit of flourishing Friday, here are some of our ideas to spark your conversation over happy hour. If you are newly or oldly wed or even thinking about getting wed, we think it’s true for you as well.

1. Have fun with your cool life. You should be laughing every day. There are plenty of odd people there in London to help. We’ve seen those hats.

2. Do not become boring. Use your resources to continue to develop and grow as individuals and as a couple. Tap into every realm—physical, emotional, spiritual and relational.

3. Have lots of sex, do it often, do it well, make it playful. It really can last longer than 10 minutes, even without the use of blue pills! Maybe this should be number 1 on the list.

4. Deliberately expose yourself to the world outside your comfort zone. Travelers are so much more fun than tourists. Explore the world. People are endlessly fascinating, especially those outside our social class.

5. Communicate lavishly. Ask each other questions, push, challenge, empathize, be inquisitive. Try to be the first couple in history to really know each other completely.

6. Take care of those hot bodies of yours. Remember the fantasy lives of millions depends on you. Seriously, don’t forget to sleep, breathe, eat well, drink lots of water and move. Your brain and ability to cope with stress depends on it.

7. Sadness and grief will make you more human. Keep it close.

8. It’s not about achievement and winning, it’s about becoming better human beings. Anyway, you’re already at the top of the heap. Let the other guy/gal win.

9. Contribute to the common good. There are so many ways to do this that don’t involve giving away cash. Help the world see that being at the top of the heap doesn’t mean you just have more opportunities to behave badly. Bring us back to the good old days by setting a higher standard.

10. On the other hand, please try not to pretend to be perfect. You’ll help the rest of us out if you demonstrate your humanness. Authenticity is so much more attractive. Plus it will save you from having your secrets exposed by the bulldogs in the British press.

11. Be generous: Not just with your presents, but with your apologies, affection, intimacy, empathy and forgiveness. We all want you to stay married forever. If you practice being generous it just might be possible.

So, fellow commoners, what advice would you add? Please comment below!

Both Linda Wagener and Richard Beaton contributed to this post.