How to Build a Great Relationship with Stepchildren

Ideas for step parenting – whether you’re getting married for the first time to a person who has children–or getting remarried and blending a family–you’re going to be navigating some unfamiliar territory in the coming years. Like starting a marriage, becoming a stepparent has its own set of challenges and rewards, and you’ll learn how to nurture these relationships as you begin your new life as a family

Stepping into the role of stepmom or stepdad is a daunting and delicate undertaking. Making this transition well isn’t easy, but it’s very doable. The result of treading carefully into this new territory will be building a rewarding relationship with your spouse’s children.

Today we’re sharing a few tips to help you start on the right foot as a new stepparent.

MAKE A GENTLE TRANSITION

Whatever the situation, kids tend to have mixed feelings about a stepparent entering the picture. There may be things about your presence in the family that your spouse’s kids love…and then there might be a part of them that feels resistant to the changes.

It’s natural for children to feel excited about having a stepmom or stepdad on one hand (in particular, if the child has grown up in a single-parent home and has been craving that second parent in their life). But on the other hand, they’re likely aware of the fact that they’ve made it just fine all these years without you (and at some point, you’ll probably hear about it).

While you might feel overly eager to start this relationship on the right foot, be gentle as you make the transition into being part of this family. Don’t try to establish yourself as a parent just yet, and don’t aggressively pursue a connection with the kids–instead, seek to cultivate a friendship with your stepchildren. Be patient and allow the relationship to naturally deepen over time.

SHOW GENUINE INTEREST

Let your spouse’s kids know you’re genuinely interested in them. Work to find common ground–identify shared interests, activities you both enjoy, and any relatable topics that come up between you as you’re getting to know each other. Get on their level, and actively listen when they speak to you.

Show up to support them in their activities, like ball games and dance recitals. If your stepkids are creative, show an active interest in their artwork, music, writing, and other creations. Your stepkids will come to know they have an ally in you if they know you are for them.

RESPECT THEIR TRADITIONS

It’s important for you to show respect for the traditions your stepchildren and their parent have created as a family. If you attempt to come into this family and change everything they’ve been doing together up till now–whether those are holiday celebrations or simple weekly rituals–you’ll set yourself up for failure right off the bat.

Learn about your stepkids’ traditions, and work with your spouse to preserve as many of those as possible (if you have children of your own and are blending two families, this will be trickier–but can still be done). Over time, you’ll be able to slowly create new traditions with your spouse and stepchildren, and maybe even incorporate a few of your own. But for now, be patient and willing to let your spouse and their kids take the lead, understanding that slow changes will come with time.

DON’T TRY TO REPLACE THEIR OTHER PARENT

Whether your stepchildren have lost their other biological parent to death or divorce, be respectful of their attachment to that other parent. Communicate that to your stepkids, and be direct with them.

A great place to start would be to let them know you understand the special relationship they have with their mom or dad, and that you have no desire to replace that in any way. Let them know you’re glad you’re in their life, and welcome them into yours. It’s also good to let them know that you hope to have a strong relationship with them in the future.

Once you’ve established that your stepchildren can be friends with you–and that you do not expect to replace their biological mother or father–that can pave the way for a great connection between you and them. Getting this out into the open will release them from any notion that having a good relationship with you will create a conflict of interest with their other parent.

LET YOUR SPOUSE HANDLE THE DISCIPLINE

A fundamental reality of blended families is that the biological parent has to be responsible for disciplining the children. Being a stepparent is a role governed by mutual respect and friendship, and stepping into a disciplinarian role with your stepkids could hinder that goal. Enacting discipline must be your spouse’s choice.

That said, since your unique position in the family demands mutual respect, if you’re being treated unkindly by your spouse’s child, it’s within your right to remove yourself from the interaction. Tell the child you feel disrespected and that you won’t stay in this conversation while they are being unkind. You must be clear about what is taking place, then do what you’ve said and remove yourself from the situation.

You can certainly communicate privately to your spouse about what is going on, but in the end, he or she must be the one to discipline the children for bad behavior.

Originally by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

 

Should I Trust My Partner Again?

  1. Is it possible to trust someone or advisable when they are responsible for your wounds?
  2. Can you ever really trust someone again who has been unfaithful?
  3. Should I have hope that I can trust my porn or sex addicted partner once more?

All the above are excellent, albeit unfortunate questions, ones that beg examination.  I am not promising to answer these for you.  The truth is… I have no right to answer that question for anyone, only as it applies to me.  My purpose in writing this is to help you start exploring the answer. This is not easy when it comes to matters of the heart.  Any other purpose would most likely be coming from a place of arrogant assumption on my part.

So, let’s openly acknowledge that 1) There are no “right” answers, and 2) We are attempting to provide insight into a complex issue, and 3) despite #1 and #2, it is a question that you will be forced to examine and answer in your own life if you have experienced relationship trauma through infidelity or addiction.

First and foremost, as you begin looking for answers, I recommend unpacking the following to start:

  • What are the good things and the not so good things about your relationship aside from the painful circumstances?
  • What is your partner’s character like overall, the good, the bad and the ugly?
  • If addiction and infidelity and the issues surrounding it were not a part of the picture, would this be a person I would wish to continue to engage in an intimate relationship?
  • If the addictive or unfaithful tendencies were addressed and resolved somehow, would I benefit from having this individual in my life?

Granted, answering these questions honestly and accurately can be difficult because you no longer trust the person/relationship in question. Like we said above, it isn’t easy!!

I think this is where the services of a coach or counselor are the most helpful.  Helping you sort through the value of the relationship to your life overall, not just looking at the negative or unfaithful behavior patterns but looking at the relationship holistically, considering all aspects. An outside perspective is necessary.  When we are recovering from wounds inflicted or experiencing new wounds daily, it is imperative we have an objective outsider to help us set healthy boundaries and examine how we feel about the future of the relationship.

To help you further explore this question, I also want to share things that led me to a healthier place where I could finally decide about choosing to trust once more.  But keep in mind, you need to thoroughly explore the questions above BEFORE you make the decision.  You cannot rush this process.  Take the time you need.  Examine everything and then make the choice that is right for you.

Just remember…

We make the best decisions for ourselves when we make those decisions in a healthy place.  We want to avoid making any long-term decisions with the following motivations: Fear, Loneliness, Suffering, Helplessness, Discouragement, Judgment, Anger, Hatred, Numbness, and Exhaustion.

I could add to this list, but hopefully, you get the picture.  These emotional states are not “bad”.  They simply are.  They are red flags in our lives that something needs to change.  But they make terrible guides and gods.

So, embrace your emotions, but don’t be ruled by them.  And if you feel you are in that place, getting to a safe place and starting to love yourself and care for yourself are a must before you start examining deeper relationship issues or long term outcomes.

If you have decided to make a go of it, and trust your partner once more, recognize that you have to make that decision for positive reasons.  Here are the reasons I decided to trust once more:

  • Your partner has valuable character traits and qualities that you want to remain in your life.
  • You love your partner and want to continue loving him or her.
  • Your partner has chosen to make important and necessary changes in his or her actions, and is growing as a person.
  • You are well informed and have your eyes wide open. You choose not because you are naïve, but because you feel this is the best decision for your life.
  • You have decided to accept the ambiguity and the unknown when it comes to love. You acknowledge you are taking a chance with your heart.  And that you could get hurt.  And isn’t that true of all relationships?
  • You recognize that the other person is fully responsible for their future happiness, decisions and trustworthiness.
  • You are bold, courageous and forgiving.  You make this decision because you are capable of directing the course of your life and this is the course you choose to take.  You are not a victim. Not weak.  Mercy and forgiveness and courage are NOT weakness.  They are not turning a blind eye or forgetting.  But they are necessary for moving forward.  And they are signs of great strength.

And finally, know this- If your partner isn’t changing or caring, then accept that you have no place in his or her life.  You are committed to growing, living, loving.  It is painful to let go, but in these cases, I recommend doing just that.  You cannot change someone else.  Ask yourself- How long am I willing to prop up another person?  To keep them moving in the right direction?  Love yourself and Let go, my friends.  And then that person you love will have to decide how to proceed…on his or her own, or with you.

And just like the lady who chooses to trust, sometimes the choice to leave is the best choice.  The one that takes the greatest courage, love and forgiveness.  Its’ okay either way, just make it your choice, and not the choice forced upon you by the opinions and judgments of others.

For any ladies or men out there dealing with an addictive spouse, please feel free to contact me and learn more about how I can help you as a life coach to move towards healing and restoration.

Originally by Tara Eash

Extended Conflict: 5 Tips for Overcoming a Stalemate

Inevitably, you and your spouse will run into issues you can’t agree on that will lead to friction in your relationship. Instead of letting conflict simmer, unresolved–where it will eventually burn up your relationship–allow it to shed light.

It’s frustrating and painful to get locked in a stalemate with your spouse…the one person you really don’t want to disagree with. Here are 5 tips for overcoming an unresolved conflict in your marriage.

  1. Don’t Avoid Conflict

In the short run, it’s very easy to avoid conflict. But long-term, it can be damaging–so you can’t ignore issues, especially if you’ve reached a stalemate with your spouse.

Ignoring conflict–instead of addressing your disagreement head-on–will create additional undercurrent issues in your marriage that might not have existed otherwise. Additionally, buried feelings have a high rate of resurrection…and unfortunately, when they arise again, they’re uglier than when we first felt them. You could unintentionally create a minefield for you and your spouse.

Get your conflict issues out in the open, and put them on the table. This exchange with your spouse doesn’t have to be loud, loaded or emotional; focus on having a relaxed and fully present conversation where you reveal that you have conflicting feelings over certain issues.

  1. Rate the Depth of Your Disagreement

When you and your spouse can’t see eye to eye on a certain issue, try using a rating system to rate how deeply you feel about whatever you’re disagreeing on. You can rate items from 1-10 (least to most important) to give yourself an objective view of how invested each of you are in certain outcomes.

Rating your issues will help keep you from checking out on each other when the going gets tough. Download our free Conflict Card for an easy way to rate the depth of your disagreement and the importance of the issues you’re dealing with together.

  1. Steer Clear of Criticism

When hashing out a particular problem or disagreement, steer clear of making critical comments toward your spouse. Criticism can take an argument in a very damaging direction.

We’ve all felt it: someone throws a critical comment in our direction, and we immediately become defensive. Emotions are heightened all the more between spouses, and it can be too easy to hurt the person we’re supposed to love the most.

Instead of being critical, turn your critical comments into complaints. That may sound counterproductive, but it will actually help you keep the emphasis off your spouse, and put it back on you and your feelings.

How you begin your statement makes all the difference. Focus on starting with an “I” statement. Instead of saying, “You never pick up your dirty laundry. You’re such a slob!” you could try, “When you don’t pick up the laundry, I feel frustrated. How can we resolve this?”

Another useful tool to keep criticism at bay is the XYZ Formula. To use it, just follow this simple construct and make it applicable to your situation: “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” It’s a great way to avoid criticizing your spouse and having to deal with hurt feelings in addition to the conflict or disagreement you’re already working to resolve.

  1. Practice Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes–and it’s SO crucial in marriage. Practicing empathy allows you to see the world from your spouse’s perspective, and imagine living life in their skin.

Feeling things from inside out will have a great impact on you, and in turn, your relationship with your spouse. We’re all hard-wired differently; there’s not one right or wrong way to do most things. We are who we are, and it can be difficult to accept this without being empathetic to one another.

Being empathetic is risky behavior because it will change you. Once you’ve learned to practice empathy, you won’t be the same person you were. You’ll be more accepting of others…and in the case of this stalemate with your spouse, empathy could give you a deeper insight into your spouse’s stance, and why they’ve taken it.

  1. Work Toward Closure

When you find yourselves on the other side of an extended, unresolved conflict (or sometimes, when you’re right in the middle of it), you may find that you have many unresolved emotions to deal with. Burying these emotions will begin a new cycle of conflict, so it’s important to handle these feelings head-on rather than suppressing them.

Make a list of things you consider unfinished or unresolved, and work to get closure with your spouse. Do the necessary work to get internal closure for yourself, as well. Journaling is a great way to process your feelings until they’re out.

Conflict Isn’t the End

It’s important to learn that conflict isn’t the end of your relationship. Once you move past the fear of conflict, you can begin to build confidence in your ability to face and overcome issues together.

Have you and your spouse ever stared down a stalemate? How did you overcome it? We’d love to hear from you.

Les and Leslie Parrot

Pornography and Couple Intimacy and Harmony

Pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony.

man-looking-at-his-computer-screen

Pornography in relationships has been an issue for a long time. Even today, professional recommendations on how to manage the use of pornography still vary widely. We attended one workshop in a couples therapy conference that recommended to merely accept porn use, especially by men, as natural and harmless. While this may be an extreme view, many clinicians have suggested that if a couple uses pornography as a stimulus for intimacy, or if they both agree to read or view pornographic materials together, then porn use is fine. In fact, many professionals have thought it might increase relationship connection and intimacy. In the Bringing Baby Home new parents workshop, we initially took this view since our research had demonstrated that, after a baby arrives, relationship intimacy decreases and measures were needed to strengthen intimate sexual connection.

Recently, however, research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person frequently viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship. The effect may be true, in part, because pornography can be a “supernormal stimulus” (see Supernormal Stimuli by Deirdre Barrett). Nikko Tinbergen, a Nobel Prize winning ethologist, described a supernormal stimulus as a stimulus that evokes a much larger response than one that has evolutionary significance. One effect of a supernormal stimulus is that interest wanes in normal stimuli. Tinbergen studied male stickleback fish who would naturally attack a rival male that entered their territory during mating season. He created an oval object with a very red belly, more intensely red than the natural fish. The fish fiercely attacked the mock up and subsequently lost interest in attacking its real male rival. Now the supernormal stimulus evoked a reaction, but not the normal stimulus.

Pornography may be just such a supernormal stimulus. With pornography use, much more of a normal stimulus may eventually be needed to achieve the response a supernormal stimulus evokes. In contrast, ordinary levels of the stimulus are no longer interesting. This may be how normal sex becomes much less interesting for porn users. The data supports this conclusion. In fact, use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.

There are many other factors about porn use that can threaten a relationship’s intimacy. First, intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people.  But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse (see Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski). This is unrealistic as well. Research has revealed that genital engorgement leads to a desire for sex only 10% of the time in women and 59% of the time in men. Fourth, some porn users rationalize that pornography is ok if it does not involve partnered sexual acts and instead relies only on masturbation. While this may accomplish orgasm the relationship goal of intimate connection is still confounded and ultimately lost.

Worse still, many porn sites include violence toward women, the antithesis of intimate connection. Porn use can become an actual addiction with the same brain mechanism activated in other behavioral addictions, like gambling (see Your Brain on Porn by Gary Wilson). Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship. Many porn sites now offer an escalation of sexual activity beyond simply viewing porn that includes actually having sex with other individuals. Finally, the support of porn use is reinforcing an industry that abuses the actors employed to create the pornography (see The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges).

We applaud major media outlets like Time Magazine that have joined the anti-pornography movement. Their April cover story titled Porn and the Threat to Virility dives into how modern men who grew up watching porn as children and teenagers have started a movement against it, hoping to shed light on the sexual material’s power to harm Americans.

In summary, we are led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our readers around the world to understand what is at stake.

By: Drs. John & Julie Gottman  April 5, 2016

 

Reconnect Your Bond with Your Partner/Spouse

Due to the different shades of Rejection….. Conflicts, disappointments, disagreements, disconnects and many other uncomfortable relational situations….. your relation can feel as if you are disconnected with your partner/spouse.

What is the solution?

Watch this intriguing and scientific explanation to the solution and resolution to your problem and crisis…

What is needed in successful relationships? The ability to REPAIR and move from disconnection to connection.

The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up

If anyone can be called the boss in modern, anti-hierarchical parenthood, it’s the children.

Young girl shouting to camera. (Stuart McClymont/Getty Images) (Stuart McClymont/Getty Images)

For modern families, the adage “food is love” might well be more true put another way: food is power. Not long ago, Dr. Leonard Sax was at a restaurant and overheard a father say to his daughter, “Honey, could you please do me a favour? Could you please just try one bite of your green peas?” To many people, this would have sounded like decent or maybe even sophisticated parenting—gentle coaxing formed as a question to get the child to co-operate without threatening her autonomy or creating a scene.

To Sax, a Pennsylvania family physician and psychologist famous for writing about children’s development, the situation epitomized something much worse: the recent collapse of parenting, which he says is at least partly to blame for kids becoming overweight, overmedicated, anxious and disrespectful of themselves and those around them.

The restaurant scene is a prime example of how all too often adults defer to kids because they have relinquished parental authority and lost confidence in themselves. They’re motivated by a desire to raise their children thoughtfully and respectfully. In theory, their intentions are good and their efforts impressive—moms and dads today are trying to build up their kids by giving them influence; they also want to please them and avoid conflict. In reality, parents are at risk of losing primacy over their children.

The dinner table is ground zero. “When parents begin to cede control to their kids, food choices are often the first thing to slide,” Sax writes in his new book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups. A rule such as “No dessert until you eat your broccoli” has recently morphed into “How about three bites of broccoli, and then you can have dessert?” The command has become a question capped with a bribe, as Sax puts it. Dinner at home requires polling kids on what they’re willing to eat; the options might include roast chicken and potatoes or chicken fingers and fries. You can bet which they choose. So parents renegotiate: How about sweet potato fries?

Parents in North America have become prone to asking their children rather than telling them. “It’s natural,” says Gordon Neufeld, a prominent Vancouver psychologist cited in Sax’s book. “Intuitively, we know that if we’re coercive, we’re going to get resistance.” For trivial choices such as which colour of pants to wear, this approach is fine, he says. But “when we consult our children about issues that symbolize nurturance like food, we put them in the lead.” That triggers an innate psychological response, and their survival instincts activate: “They don’t feel taken care of and they start taking the alpha role.”

So if the girl served green peas does eat one bite as her dad asked, Sax says, “she is likely to believe that she has done her father a favour and that now he owes her a favour in return.” Food may be the first manifestation of the collapse of parenting, but many of the problems within families are a result of this type of role confusion. In this way, what happens over a meal is a metaphor for how uncomfortable parents have become in their position as the “alpha” or “pack leader” or “decider” of the family—the boss, the person in charge. The grown-up.

That discomfort comes from a loving place, of course. Many parents strive to raise their kids differently from how they grew up. They say, “I can’t do the stuff I was raised with, it doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to yell, I don’t want to spank,” says Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist and parenting educator in London, Ont. “There’s a massive parenting shift between our generation and the one before. We’ve come a long way from when you called your dad ‘sir’ and when he walked in the house you would jump out of ‘his’ chair.”

The evolution hasn’t been easy, though. “We’re trying to pull off the emotion coaching but we haven’t received the training,” says Nair. “It’s like teaching your kids to speak French while you’re learning it in the textbook.” Parents have made it a top priority that their kids feel heard and respected from a young age. They want to be emotionally available to them, and for their children to be able to express their own emotions. “Kids have permission to have tantrums now because [they’re] learning how to manage feelings,” says Nair. “Someone said to me, ‘Are we seeing more tantrums now than we used to?’ And I wonder.”Parents also want a democratic household where each family member has a say about what happens—Should we go outside now? Are we ready to have a bath? Would you like to have the party here?—and they cultivate independence and freedom of thought in their children. Strict obedience used to be praised; now it is seen as outdated and potentially dangerous. Compliance might mean your kid is a pushover, which no parent wants, especially as bullying has spread from the schoolyard to cyberspace.

There are broader influences shifting the parent-child dynamic as well. Over the past half-century or more, the public has come to scorn power imbalances based on gender, race, religion and sexual orientation, and historic gains have been achieved in the pursuit of equality. Even corporations are now replacing pyramidal management with “flat organization.” In Western society, where equality for everyone has become a cultural objective and a constitutional right, children are treated like they are one more minority group to honour and empower. “Empower has come to seem virtuous,” Sax says. “Empower everyone, why not?”

But many kids are actually overpowering their parents. That’s the problem, say those working in child development. A functional family unit hinges on the one social construct that contemporary society has been working hard to dismantle: hierarchy. “You need a strong alpha presentation to inspire a child to trust you and depend upon you,” says Neufeld of parents. “If we don’t have enough natural power then we’re hard-pressed to [make] the demand or [set] the limit” for children. “The parent always has to be honoured as the ultimate person,” he continues. “We need to put parents back in the driver’s seat.”

Related: There’s no such thing as a naturally picky eater 

If not, the consequences can be far-reaching, starting with children’s eating habits, which might contribute to them becoming overweight and obese. Like the father in the restaurant, many parents can’t convince their kids to eat well. It doesn’t help that junk food is sometimes a reward for acing a test or scoring a goal. The message: healthy food is for losers. On-demand snacking—in the car, at the mall, while out for a walk—appears to disrupt metabolism and circadian rhythms, as well as hormonal balance. That many parents carry with them a canteen of water and a stash of goodies wherever their kids go is further proof of how much they want to satisfy their children, literally and figuratively. “I don’t want them to get hypoglycemic,” one mom told Sax while lugging a cooler of snacks to her car for a 30-minute drive.

Contributing to the extraordinary weight gain among North American children in recent years is a dramatic decline in fitness. There is even a medical term for it, “deconditioning,” which is described in the Collapse of Parenting as a euphemism for “out of shape.” It has landed kids as young as 11 and 12 in the cardiologist’s office complaining of heart-disease symptoms including chest tightness and shortness of breath. In fact, some hospitals in the U.S. have even opened pediatric preventive cardiology clinics.

While children are less active than ever, they do not, ironically, get enough rest. A common question Sax asks students is, “What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time, when you are by yourself with no one watching?” The most common answer in recent years: sleep. That’s because children are too busy with school assignments and extracurricular activities to go to bed at a good hour, or because when they get to bed, they are on their cellphone or computer, or playing video games.

Related: Are we the worst generation of parents? 

This chronic fatigue may be associated with the rise of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and prescription drug use among children. “Sleep deprivation mimics ADHD almost perfectly,” writes Sax. In his experience as a doctor, insufficient sleep is one reason why kids are more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. In general, “It is now easier to administer a pill prescribed by a board-certified physician, than to firmly instruct a child and impose consequences for bad behaviour.” Stephen Camarata, a professor of hearing and speech sciences and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville echoes that point: “Parents say, ‘My child can’t do this particular exercise, they’re not paying attention,’ therefore I have to identify them as having a clinical condition.” A medical diagnosis might negate parental shortcomings or a child’s misbehaviour. “It displaces that failure,” he says.

Camarata worries that parents are asking too much of kids too soon, as he outlines in his latest book, The Intuitive Parent: Why the Best Thing For Your Child Is You. He points to the surge of books, toys and software marketed to parents of young children promising to accelerate learning. The ubiquitous metaphor that kids are information sponges has parents saturating them with educational exercises. “We’re treating them like little hard drives,” says Camarata, but “this idea of pushing children to the absolute max of their developmental norm doesn’t give them time to reason and problem-solve. It actually undermines both self-confidence and fluid reasoning, or the ability to think.”

Schools, too, have been focusing more on academic achievement than socialization. Sax documents how, 30 years ago, American students in kindergarten and Grade 1 learned “Fulghum’s rules,” which include tenets such as “Don’t take things that aren’t yours” and “Clean up your own mess” as well as “Share everything” and “Don’t hit people.” But since the 1980s, as other nations pulled ahead of the U.S. in scholastic performance, the primary objective of educators has become literacy and numeracy. In Canada too, says Neufeld, “we have lost our culture. Our society is far more concerned that you perform. Schools will always drift to outcome-based things.”

Related reading: Inside your teenager’s scary brain

That’s partly why a “culture of disrespect” has sprouted in North America. As kids have become less attached to and influenced by the adults in their lives, same-age peers have come to matter more to them. It’s a theme in Neufeld’s book, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, co-authored by Dr. Gabor Maté. Young children “are not rational beings,” says Neufeld. Part of growing up is testing boundaries; little ones, by their very nature, can’t be relied on to hold each other accountable—nor should they.

“Kids are not born knowing right from wrong,” says Sax, pointing to longitudinal studies showing that children who are left to discover right from wrong on their own are more likely to have negative outcomes in the future: “That child in their late 20s is much more likely to be anxious, depressed, less likely to be gainfully employed, less likely to be healthy, more likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. We now know this,” he says. “Parents who are authoritative have better outcomes, and it’s a larger effect than the effect of race, ethnicity, household income or IQ.”

Mothers in a park. (Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

Mothers in a park. (Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

With stakes so high, authoritative parenting would seem imperative. But there is a psychological hurdle that people will have to overcome first, says Nair: “How to respect their child but also be the decider” of the family. Part of the challenge lies in the fact that parents don’t want to fail—at nurturing and governing simultaneously—and they certainly don’t want their children to fail in their personal development, in school and at social networking. These worries feed off each other in the minds of parents; that’s why parents second-guess the way they speak to their kids, what they feed them, how they discipline them and what activities they permit.

This is all the more true for the growing number of parents who delayed having children until they were “ready” with a secure job, a good home and a dependable partner. “People purposely wait so they can nail it,” says Bria Shantz, a 35-year-old mother of two in Vancouver. “That creates even more pressure. They want to get this perfect.” Shantz is, in fact, the daughter of Neufeld, and she has called upon him for advice or reassurance. That Shantz, who has a leading child psychologist in her family, one who helped raise her, can still occasionally succumb to parental insecurity, says everything about its potency: “There’s this slight panic. You want to do everything right,” she says. “Nothing prepares you for how much you want it to go well.”

Related: Why men can’t have it all

So as soon as parents conceive, they begin amassing a library of books on how to deal with the fantastic chaos about to enter their lives in the form of a baby; the collection grows with each developmental stage. They subscribe to online newsletters and smartphone apps that alert them on milestones their children should reach by a certain age. From the outset, parents are tracking how quickly their child is growing, how much they are achieving. For every expert a parent consults by phone or in person, they’re also checking in with the virtual wise man, Google. That almost never helps.

There is no parental concern too obscure not to have an online group devoted to it. Shantz is part of one focused on “baby-wearing” because she’s trying to decide whether a “wrap” or a “ring sling” would be better for her nine-month-old. “It’s the weirdest site to be on. You see posts and you feel guilty because [parents] are carrying their babies everywhere, doing all these things, having this connection.” And yet Shantz hasn’t been able to delete herself from the group, even though she keeps meaning to; nor has she been able to pick between a wrap or sling.

That pull and push moms and dads feel­—between caring about how other parents are raising their kids while rejecting the constant comparisons—defines this generation of parents for better and worse. Katie Hurley, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles and author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World, says, “We’ve been conditioned to question ourselves—to constantly look for information to make sure we’re doing it right. Because of that, parents are in a state of learned helplessness.” 

So what are people supposed to do? The answer is so basic that at first it might seem unsatisfying: For starters, says Hurley, realize that “nobody knows what they’re doing when they leave the hospital with an infant. Every parent learns by trial and error”—every year of their child’s life, and with every child they raise. That’s as true today as it ever was, and parents who recognize this will shed some guilt and anxiety. Building on this idea, Nair says that parents must “have a higher tolerance for things not going well.” How they recover from their own occasional mistake, outburst, loss of patience or bad call may say more to a child than how they are in happy times. “We’re missing that opportunity, which is how learning works,” she says. “That’s how we become more confident.”

Related reading: How much risk should we expose kids to? 

A significant portion of Sax’s book is devoted to the importance of parents modelling traits they want to encourage in their children. Chief among them, he says, should be humility and conscientiousness—which run counter to inflating a child’s self-esteem and sense of entitlement. To that end, he encourages parents to fortify their adult relationships so they are not overly concerned with pleasing their kids as a way of satisfying their own need for affection. Neufeld also urges parents, including his own adult children, to establish a network of surrogate caregivers—relatives, neighbours, daycare workers—who will not undermine their authority but back them up when they need help.

And invariably, they will. “Parenting is awfully frustrating and often a lonely place,” says Neufeld, especially when a child misbehaves. In those moments, he recommends parents reassure kids that their relationship isn’t broken. “When parents realize that they are their children’s best bet, it challenges them to their own maturity.” It gives them the confidence that they know what’s good for their kids, and that they should stand up to them—this is, in fact, an act of love required of parents. They become, in effect, the grown-ups their children need.

 

 Macleans Magazine January 7, 2016

Myths and Reality of Couples Therapy

Maintaining a positive, supportive relationship with one’s partner in the face of expected and unusual life stress is one of the biggest challenges many couples face. Not uncommonly, instead of pulling together to face life’s difficulties, partners become disengaged or even hostile. The person you expect to always have your back begins to feel like the enemy. And sometimes it feels like the harder you try to fix the problem, the worse things get.

Maintaining a positive, supportive relationship with one’s partner in the face of expected and unusual life stress is one of the biggest challenges many couples face.  Not uncommonly, instead of pulling together to face life’s difficulties, partners become disengaged or even hostile. The person you expect to always have your back begins to feel like the enemy. And sometimes it feels like the harder you try to fix the problem, the worse things get.

The good news is that a well-trained couples therapist can help most relationships that have hit a rough patch. According to recent studies, 90% of couples who see a well-trained Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist experience improvement and 70% report full repair of their relationship.

But here’s the bad news: many couples that could benefit from this therapy are reluctant to get help. Unfounded beliefs and misconceptions get in the way.

Here is the truth about six common misconceptions:

  1. The therapist will take sides. With some therapists, this in fact may happen. But an Emotionally Focused Couples (EFT) Therapist is trained to recognize how both partners contribute to their dance of anger or disconnection. Successful therapy invariably requires each partner to understand his or her role in the couple’s distress.
  1. The therapist will tell us we should break up. Again, there are probably some therapists who would make this judgment, but the role of an EFT Therapist is to help couples understand how their relationship has gone wrong and to guide them – for as long as they are willing to try – in how to repair it. The decision of whether to stay in a relationship always belongs to the couple.
  1. We are too far gone; the situation is hopeless. Many couples worry that their problems have gone on so long, there is no hope of improving their relationship. But even long-standing problems can be resolved with EFT therapy. The intensity of anger also does not necessarily indicate that a relationship can’t be improved. The only clear sign that EFT therapy won’t help is if one or both partners have become so disengaged they are no longer willing to try.
  1. Talking about our problems will make things worse. Many couples have experienced that their own attempts to talk about their problems have made things worse, so this concern is understandable. They may even have had previous experiences in therapy where talking did make things worse. However, an EFT Therapist is trained to create a safe space where problems can be discussed productively. In many cases, the therapist will be able to help partners see each other’s struggles in new ways that open the door to healing and reconciliation.
  1. Couples therapy is a waste of time and does not work. Many therapists who see couples aren’t trained in an effective model of couples therapy, and there is probably a significant risk that these therapists will not be helpful. However, EFT has years of research demonstrating its effectiveness in helping couples improve their relationships, and follow-up studies show these improvements are long lasting. EFT is one of a handful of couples therapies designated as empirically supported by the American Psychological Association. A therapist trained in EFT is guided by a roadmap that has one of the strongest track records in helping distressed couples.
  1. We (or he or she) need individual therapy first. A growing body of evidence suggests that successful couples therapy can actually reduce an individual’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, and other psychological disorders. At the very least, a stronger, more supportive relationship will reduce the suffering both partners experience when one partner is struggling with a psychological disorder. Couples therapy may not be the only treatment needed when a partner has significant psychological symptoms, but when the relationship has suffered, it is often the best place to start.
By Ruth C Iampol PhD

Your Attitude can Change You and Others

Our attitude determines our approach to life – Our attitude determines our relationship with people. Our attitude is the only difference between success and failure.

My attitude towards a person in business influenced the outcome of success. Afterwards I was wondering, what could I have done more to make it more efficient?

Our attitude at the beginning of a task will affect its outcome more than anything else.

Our attitude can turn our problems into blessings.

Our attitude can give us an uncommonly positive perspective.

The foundations of our attitude is laid out in the environment, therefore make wise choices where you work, and with surroundings you allow you to be within. Environment becomes even more significant when we realise that the beginning attitudes are the most difficult to change.

How we see ourselves reflects how others see us.

Surround yourselves with positive people. Others can stop you temporarily, but you are the only one who can do it permanently.

We are either the masters or the victims of our attitudes. It is a matter of personal choice. Who we are today is the result of choices we made yesterday. Tomorrow we will become what we choose today. To change means to choose change. There are eight choices we need to make to change our attitude.

  • Evaluate your present attitudes. The goal of this exercise is not to see the “bad you” but the bad attitude that keeps you from being a more fulfilled person.
  • Realise that faith is stronger than fear. The only thing that will guarantee the success of a doubtful undertaking is the faith from the beginning that you can do it.
  • Write a statement of purpose. In order to have fun and direction in changing your attitude, you must establish a clearly stated goal. This goal should be as specific as possible, written out, and signed with a time frame attached to it.
  • Have the desire to change. No choice will determine the success of your attitude change more than desiring to change. When all else fails, desire alone can keep you heading in the right direction.
  • Live one day at a time. It is not the experiences of today that drive men to distraction; it is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday and the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore live but one day at a time, today!
  • Change your thought patterns. What holds our attention determines our actions. We are where we are and what we are because of the dominating thoughts that occupy our minds. Our thought lives, not our circumstances, determine our happiness.
  • Develop good habits. Attitudes are nothing more than habits of thought. Habits aren’t instincts; they’re acquired action or reactions. They don’t just happen; they are caused.
  • Continually choose to have a right attitude. Once you make the choice to possess a good attitude, the work really begins. Now comes a life of continually deciding to grow and maintain the right outlook. Attitudes have a tendency to revert back to their original patterns if not carefully guarded and cultivated.

Adjusted from John Maxwell.

Signs of a Resilient Relationship

There are setbacks in every relationship. What are the signs of a relationship, which will resiliently come back and recover.

  • The partners are available and responsive to one another’s needs. She may need him to listen after a tough day, or suddenly he needs her to pick up the kids or cook when it was his turn to do so. Responsiveness when the other person is in a bind shows caring.
  • The couple tells stories about difficult circumstances that they’ve overcome. It is easy for difficult, challenging periods to overshadow real successes that the couple may have achieved. By taking a look at what has been overcome together, successes can be highlighted, putting troubles into perspective.
  • The partners face fears and share needs as a couple. The most resilient couples turn to each other (that phenomenon of secure attachment) when life becomes difficult.
  • Time is taken to invest in activities, which build pleasurable memories and bonds. These are not just fun times together; they are reminders the partners make to each other about how important the other person is. The partners often have a list (at least a mental list) of places and activities they enjoy together. They make sure that they take time to go to them and do them.
  • Hurts or misunderstandings are quickly repaired. Disappointments, miscommunications, and arguments are common in healthy couples. Quick, successful repairs strengthen a relationship. If one partner realises that he or she has really hurt the other, the injury is addressed immediately, with acknowledgement, apologies, and sharing that that is not the kind of person the partner desires to be.
  • The couple sees a purpose in their relationship, and the partners communicate that worth to one another. The partners make sure to let each other know how much they mean to each other from time to time. The more they do this, the less awkward and more natural it becomes to do it.

(Adapted from Bradley & Furrow, 2013).

Warning Signs of a Relationship in Trouble

Warning signs to look out for in your relationship. While no relationship is perfect and couples can expect to have their fair share of conflicts, if issues are not resolved adequately, over time they can feel like insurmountable problems. Here are some warning signs signalling that a relationship is in trouble.

  1. Most arguments do not get resolved. Of course, most couples have issues that they return to over time for resolving at different levels of integration, but when key issues are not ever able to be resolved, the relationship is struggling.
  2. One or both partners feels like they need to “walk on eggshells” around sensitive issues. The need to avoid conflicts and protect oneself from further conflict signals a lack of safety in a relationship. Partners need to know what dangers are being avoided.
  3. One or both partners’ feel(s) unable to reach out to the other for emotional support. A romantic relationship devoid of emotional engagement is a relationship drained of any vitality. Being unable to trust one’s partner with emotional vulnerability is a clear sign of a relationship that is at risk.
  4. The partners find themselves spending less time together for no particular reason. It’s not that their schedules are incompatible or that one or the other has a period of excessive work demands or temporary obligations to family-of-origin members needing intensive help. Rather, for no good reason the partners choose to spend less time together. Time is a crucial resource for sustaining intimacy.
  5. Arguments include criticism, defensiveness, and contempt. If one or both partners engage in character attacks, mindreading, insults, name-calling, or counter-complaining, the emotional security of the relationship is being injured.
  6. Partners have not expressed needing the other for some time: say, months. One way that partners show intimacy is by sharing vulnerability. By no longer depending on one another, both closeness and the importance of the relationship are lost.
  7. There may have been anger and frustration, but now there is just apathy. Attachment needs, which are not met, engender despair and depression. When the situation continues chronically, these feelings give way to detachment, and moving away from the relationship. It is one thing to actively accept an unresolved difference, but to simply give up on an issue is like giving up on the relationship or moving away from it.
  8. Trusting the partner is too hard, so the person tries to control circumstances instead. Controlling actions is a common way for partners to respond when they have had an attachment injury or they are fearful, but it undermines efforts to rebuild trust.
  9. Fear of criticism prevents sharing of personal thoughts and feelings. When members of a couple feel insecure and/or fear a lack of care or concern on the part of their partner, it is common to manage it through withdrawal. While that is a short-term solution to eroding trust, in the long-term it can seriously threaten a relationship, depriving it of life energy (Bradley, B. & Furrow, J. 2013).

If more than two or three of these symptoms are present in the relationship, it is time to take corrective action; an EFT or other couples therapist may be needed. Conversely, relationships, which will be hardy in the face of adversity, are those in which the couple – while not perfect – is able to act resourcefully and skillfully to address concerns and maintain a stable balance of positive emotions.