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Family Vacation Tip: Take a time cushion and avoid time outs!

If you think it will take seven days for a vacation, plan for eight or nine. If you think it will take four hours to drive to your vacation spot, prepare for five or six. Taking a time cushion will allow you to rest and not be upset because you are late or lost. If you are a single parent, you have the job of two parents to do when on vacation. Be kind to yourself and over prepare. That extra sweater just may come in handy if someone gets theirs wet and need a new one. Those extra snacks may keep the wild things calm when you are trying to find the right turn off on the highway in the middle of the night after being hours on the road. Time cushions allow you to handle the stressors that occur when taking a nontraditional family vacation.

Keeping Love Alive Loving Through Difficult Times

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

How we love family members during the emotional distances and dark shadows of our relationships determine the long-term quality of those relationships. All relationships have ups and downs and our ability to ride out the extremes is challenging but a normal process of loving others. At the heart of the dark moments, we want to abandon the roller coaster ride for the firm safety of the ground. Our inner brains want us to fight or flee or if both of these options fail us, to freeze internal emotional reality. How do we overcome the turbulence and deep disconnect for the long haul?

One truth is to develop our identity and remind ourselves that relationship in not contained in the ups and downs but over the entire course of life. Look for the long tail of relationships and how to keep a spark alive even if it just nurture by you and not the other. The fight or flight mechanism of the brain wants us to rush our actions or re-actions when we really need to do in these crucibles is slow down and evaluate our choices. My best advice to families in the middle of chaos is to slow down but that is one of the hardest things to do. Many fail in the attempt.

A lot of my therapeutic work is with adoptive families. Many times the early life trauma results in an out-of-control teenager that ultimately forces the parent to consider residential care. They believe they have failed as parents and the relationship feels like it has ended. The truth is that relationship trumps residence. Your connection is stretchier than you thought. You may have to make a decision to create distance to ensure safety but you are not letting go of the relationship. You are protecting it and that is very different.

Because we like “up” moments filled with laughter and hugs and emotional closeness and hate the “down” moments with its harsh words, self-pity, victimization, and loneliness, we can start a rocking motion that swings faster and faster between the ups and downs. Pushing on one side and then the other increases chaos that throws everyone off the see-saw entirely.

When I work with bitter couples, hurt by infidelity and emotional rejection, I ask them to step off the see-saw, remember what attracted them to each other, the values they used to believe and to forgive one another. Too many nurture the wound and do not receive the healing. It is difficult to forgive but unforgiveness is like a poison that kills the heart of the relationship. It doesn’t say what was done was acceptable or that I will “forget and forgive”. You do not forget but you must forgive to allow life to start up again. From here we rebuild new creations that last.

Give up the illusion of control. You cannot control anyone else. You only have 100%, guaranteed results with yourself. You must manage you. Controlling your reactions is what allow the extreme ups and downs to settle and become smooth again. Take 5 to keep your relationship alive and pause to consider your best long-term actions. Take 10 and then reconsider again. If you need to make a hard, drastic decision, it is better to take the time to think it through completely vs. carrying a weight of regret.

Identity is the most important ingredient in loving through the distance.  Victim-minded people seek their identity through others instead of operation from a place of a sense of self. If I need you in order to be me and you are the source of my hurt and pain, then I cannot manage me that doesn’t exist. I cannot sustain a relationship that is one-sided. Start a journey of knowing yourself and your needs and your drives and your desires to deal with others in the distant relationships. Operating FROM a place of identity allows you to remain you even if others reject you. A simple starting place is journaling or talking to a therapist.

A final truth is that love is unconditional. It doesn’t have to agree with the other person’s actions or allow it to continue damaging the family but it doesn’t have to turn off. It can continue from a safer distant to provide an opportunity to bring it into closer intimacy. We don’t turn off love when others don’t do what we want. That is false power. Real power says I can set a boundary and I can exist without you but I choose to continue to love you. If you do not choose the same than I will remain me and love myself and others too.

Abused Children Similar to War Vets

Children who have been abused or witnessed violence suffer similar trauma to war veterans…

LONDON (Reuters) ­ Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.

Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain areas ­­ the anterior insula and the amygdala ­­ which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats. This suggests that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyper­aware” of danger in their environment, the researchers said. “Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.

Parental Punishment Cause Children’s Anxiety

Parents who regularly punish or dismiss their children’s anxieties could be setting their kids up for obesity, warns a new study.

That’s because kids who fail to learn how to regulate their negative emotions – a skill that can be fostered by affirmative parenting – are more likely to turn to food for comfort, which can eventually lead to obesity.

That’s the overarching conclusion of a University of Illinois study, which found a connection between poor parenting skills, defined in the study as “insecure parents,” and a child’s propensity for consuming junk food.

“The study found that insecure parents were significantly more likely to respond to their children’s distress by becoming distressed themselves or dismissing their child’s emotion,” said lead author Kelly Bost.

“For example, if a child went to a birthday party and was upset because of a friend’s comment there, a dismissive parent might tell the child not to be sad, to forget about it. Or the parent might even say: Stop crying and acting like a baby or you’re never going over again.”

Instead, parents should learn to help their children describe what they’re feeling and work on problem-solving strategies with them.

Insecure parenting was also related to “comfort feeding,” as well as fewer mealtimes and more screen time, all known factors that have been linked to unhealthy eating habits and childhood obesity.

For the study, 497 parents of toddlers ages two and three were asked to answer 32 questions that gauged the nature of their relationship to the children. Parents were also asked to rate themselves on a scale that measured depression and anxiety.

They then responded to questions about how they handled their children’s negative emotions, family mealtimes, and the estimated hours of TV viewing a day.

Meanwhile, a study out of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto released last year also found that preschool children are less likely to be obese if they live in a safe neighborhood and within walking distance of parks and retail services.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/how-parenting-styles-can-lead-to-childhood-obesity-1.1671384#ixzz2sYgP40gj

(via How parenting styles can lead to childhood obesity | CTV News)

Growing Pains: Parenting Adult Children

Psychologist and author Joshua Coleman is an internationally recognized expert on parenting and marriage, among other topics. Today we are pleased to present the first installment of his Greater Good blog, in which he explores the roots of conflicts between parents and their adult children.

Stay tuned for Dr. Coleman’s subsequent posts, which will explore strategies for overcoming parent-child conflict.

According to a recent Pew survey, a high percentage of today’s parents report fewer serious arguments with their children in their late teens and early 20s than they had with their own parents at a similar age.

However, not all parents experience this kind of closeness. Some parents complain of ongoing tension and conflict with their adult children or, worse, complain that they are completely estranged from them.

In my work as a psychologist, I’ve witnessed many families experiencing these kinds of conflicts. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about why these conflicts arise, and how parents can best handle them. (I share many of my observations in my recent book, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along.)

New grounds for conflict

Part of the problem stems from the fact that parents today invest far more in their children than did prior generations of parents. According to sociologist Scott Coltrane, fathers do three times as much parenting as fathers in the 1960s; sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson, and Melissa Milke report that mothers spend far more time parenting than did mothers in the 1960s.

© Steve Debenport

Among other reasons, this increased investment by both mothers and fathers comes as a result of parental anxiety about their children’s future, guilt about spending less time with their children than they believe they should, education about children’s developmental needs, and a desire to be a better parent than their own parents were.

We have also radically altered our views about what we expect from children. Surveys in the 1920s showed that parents valued conformity, loyalty, and obedience; they wanted their kids to respect them, if not fear them. Today’s parents value individuality, tolerance, and the ability to think for themselves. They want their children’s love and are worried that they can easily jeopardize that love by not being a good enough parent.

How have these changes affected parents’ relationships with their children as those kids get older and progress through adulthood themselves? On the one hand, better education about children and parent-child communication has increased the potential for positive long-term relationships between parents and children, as the recent Pew survey details. Children, overall, appear to be doing better as judged by test scores and declines in youth crime, teen pregnancies, and suicide.

On the other hand, the onset of clinical depression occurs much earlier than in prior generations of children, and college health centers complain about not being able to handle the volume of students who are struggling with psychological issues.

The environment for parenting has also changed. In comparison to the past, parents have far fewer support systems of kin and neighbors to help them strike the right balance in their child-rearing. With people spending less time with their friends and communities, many parents turn to their offspring for fulfillment, intimacy, and long-term security—and those children are far more likely to be at home with their parents than they were in prior generations: Historian Steven Mintz has observed that between the early 1980s and late 1990s, unstructured play and outdoor activities for children declined nearly 40 percent for children ages three to 11.

While more time with children creates more opportunities for bonding, a more intense relationship increases the potential for conflict, resentment, and disappointment on the part of both parent and child. As sociologist Annette Lareau observes in her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, middle class children are encouraged to develop a perspective of mutuality or equality in their relationships with adults. In a study, she found that these children frequently and comfortably passed judgment on the adults around them.

“In general the children of middle class parents have a sense that they are special, that their opinions matter, and that adults should as a matter of routine adjust situations to meet their children’s wishes,” writes Lareau.

A greater degree of entitlement and comfort with adults can be highly adaptive in a world that requires autonomy, assertiveness, and comfort with authority. And in most cases, these children grow up to be highly respectful of their parents and other adults.

However, this entitlement is problematic when it’s combined with a prevailing cultural notion that children’s outcomes in life depend largely on how their parents raise them. Because while parenting is important, it isn’t the only experience that shapes children. Current studies show that class, genetics, peer group, and sibling relationships are also powerful determinants of how kids turn out. A culture that over-attributes parenting behavior to children’s outcomes may confuse adult children about the formative influences on their life, and may make them more likely to blame their parents when things don’t turn out the way they’d hoped.

Overstating the relationship between parenting behavior and child outcome may also cause politicians to wrongly attribute blame to the family for conditions that are better understood as having an economic basis. As historian Stephanie Coontz observes in her book The Way We Never Were, blaming parents for how children turn out is especially unfair when applied to the poor and working class, since research shows that the social dynamics of poverty and low status give them less influence over their children in relation to peer groups than parents in other classes.

And as sociologist Frank Furstenberg has noted, the financial and emotional costs for American parents are much greater here than in many European countries where the government takes a more active role in health care, education, and job training for young adults.

While parents in the U.S. are expected to provide an even greater investment in childcare, entertainment, protection, college, and after-college care than prior generations of parents here and elsewhere, there are fewer guidelines for what they might expect in return. Parents may feel hurt or betrayed if they do not get the love and gratitude they look forward to and believe that they deserve, and this may cause them to strain the relationship with their children even further by complaining or criticizing about their lack of availability or attentiveness.

Improving parents’ relationships with their adult children

Fortunately, in working with the parents of adult children, I’ve found that there are effective ways for them to overcome these conflicts. While every family is different, I believe that the following principles are the most important.

  • Take responsibility for whatever mistakes you have made as a parent. If there’s a kernel of truth in your child’s complaint, speak to the kernel of truth.
  • Honor the “separate realities” nature of family life. Just because you made decisions with your child’s best interest in mind, doesn’t mean that they were experienced in the way that you intended. Don’t try to prove them wrong.
  • Avoid guilt trips: a) They don’t work and b) When they do, you’ll pay a high price for the resentment you’ll generate in your adult child.
  • Try to hear your child out. Don’t be defensive. Ask questions.
  • Don’t give up too soon. If there’s been an estrangement, you may need to reach out for a long time before you see an improvement in the relationship.
  • In general, avoid giving advice that isn’t asked for.
  • If you don’t want to give money or help, say so in a loving way, not as a complaint or criticism.
  • Don’t criticize their spouse, their significant other, or their sexuality.
  • Don’t tell them how to parent. You had your turn. Let them have theirs.

Each of these recommendations has its challenges. Therefore, my next several posts will go into more detail on them, exploring precisely how parents can strengthen their relationship with their adult children.

Are you estranged from your adult children? How have your tried to bridge the distance and rebuild the relationship? What advice would you give parents who are just attempting this journey?