Posted on April 4, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
They don’t stand out. They don’t make the Reality TV circuit. While they may not garner attention, they give plenty of it to others of another generation.
Who am I talking about? Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
Last weekend I had the honor to speak at a retreat for parents.There were thirty-some women in attendance and about five men. While the men were busy with an activity I spoke to these lovely women, who likely ranged in age from their twenties to about sixty. All were mothers who have concerns about their children. Among this group, there were those who had double the concerns. These were the women who are parenting their grandchildren.
Not the easiest task under the best of circumstances, but one about which I heard not a single complaint. More important was the goal of doing a good job when their adult children were unwilling or unable to raise their children themselves.
One of the challenges brought up was that of being in a dual role. How these women would love to be a traditional grandmother; one who can “spoil” the kids a bit, and not have to worry about day-to-day matters such as homework completion, baths, toilet training, and meting out discipline.
“It’s a matter of switching hats,” one woman commented, from grandma to parent and back again. Another put it very well: (and I may not be getting her exact words):“When I am being the grandma, I do what my grandchild wants. When I am being the parent, she does what I want.”
I did a little research to see what the trends are in this area of parenting. I learned that according to the US Census (2000), 2.4 million American families are those in which a grandchild is living with his/her grandparents. This is a 19% increase from 1990. Of grandparent –maintained families, 2.3 million have a grandmother and 1.4 million have a grandfather. In addition, about two-thirds of these households also include one or both of the children’s parents.
Six percent (3.9 million) of the nation’s children live in a grandparents home, up 76 percent from those who did so in 1970.
This is a significant trend which shows no sign of let-up at this time.
The reasons for this can be discussed another day. For now, I want to commend these heroes among us, who, having raised one generation of children, are now raising another. This cannot be done without considerable sacrifice, although I never heard one word about that in this workshop.
Is there a more noble task than to give of yourself in this way?
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Posted on March 28, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
Emotional Blackmail—Part Two
Two weeks ago I wrote about emotional blackmail by adult children. I cannot let the topic go unless I look at it from the other side as well: emotional blackmail by parents.
Emotional blackmail by parents can include withdrawal or the threat of withdrawal of love, assistance or money. According to my late father, his own dad pulled the plug on any help with college when he refused to become a pharmacist. My father had to drop out of Ohio State and move back home. He took a full time job, went to night school and paid his own way to study accounting. His father’s attempt at blackmail did not work.
I’ve written previously about the topic of guilt and guilt-making. “Making” someone feel guilty is certainly one way of impacting (or controlling) behavior, but it creates more problems than it is worth.
Here is a scenario: Ursula wants to see more of her adult children. They live only only a few miles away, but don’t see her more than every couple months. Ursula feels hurt about this; her resentment grows when she drops hint and after hint that seems to be ignored. Feeling fed up, but not able to directly ask for what she wants, she “turns up the heat” in her phone calls and texts.
Here are some sample statements she makes:
“You know, Julie’s son visits her every weekend. I see him out there washing her car, mowing her grass, and pruning trees. He must really love her.” (The implication: if you loved me, you’d do the same things.)
“I thought we gave you everything growing up. And now, it’s like that never happened. I would have thought you’d be grateful.” (The implication: you are ungrateful and a disappointment.)
“ Do you know how much we sacrificed to send you to college? And now I have to beg you to come see me?” (The implication: Look at what you’ve made me do. You owe me.)
“Don’t expect me to help with your wedding if you marry him. His mother is rude to me and I won’t even come to the wedding if she is there.” (The implication: if you disobey me, I won’t give you my time or money for the wedding. You must choose your new in-law or me.)
As you can see in all the examples, Ursula wants something: visits from her children, gratitude, devotion, loyalty, and exclusion of others. More deeply, she wants her children’s love. But the manner in which she goes after it has the opposite effect. What she gets instead are adult children who want to run in the opposite direction. Or, she may have dutiful children who do what she wants, while resenting her. In addition, they may feel bad about themselves.
This is not a healthy way to connect with others. When I see this kind of interaction in therapy, I listen for the deeper message beneath the manipulative comments. I try to get the parent to express her needs in a healthier way.
None of us are perfect parents; we have probably all communicated at some time using guilt as a means for getting what we want.
But we would be wise to pay attention to repeated tendencies in this area. When your adult children can be in your presence and feel positive about themselves, it is a plus for both generations. When the price they pay for contact with a belittling parent is a loss of self-worth, no one feels good.
The choice is ours.
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Posted on March 14, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
This phrase has been cropping up recently from my clients, so it’s a good time to write about it.
Emotional blackmail, unlike traditional blackmail, involves people who are in a close relationship. They may be siblings, spouses, significant others, or parent and child. Money may or may not change hands with emotional blackmail. Either way, the payoff is not to keep a secret silent, but to maintain some semblance of a relationship or to stop abusive or manipulative behavior.
With emotional blackmail, one person holds the other “hostage” by threatening to behave in punishing ways in order to get what he/she wants. The punishment may be either through explosive emotions and behaviors or withdrawal.
For our purposes in this blog, we will be talking about parents who are being emotionally blackmailed by their children.
One of the most common versions of this blackmail occurs when parents want to set limits with their adult children. Typically these adult children have already taken advantage of the parents. Often the parents have been subsidizing some combination of rent, food, entertainment, car payments, insurance or childcare. Eventually, most parents get to the point where they recognize that their form of giving or “helping” is not working. That is, the desired result−a more productive and responsible grown child−is not being achieved.
When they set an expectation for more responsible behavior, the young person throws up a smokescreen that can include guilt-making (“You’ve never been there for me”)playing the victim (“I’ve been trying to find work; I can’t help it if I’m not as smart as my sister”), adult temper tantrums and rages, and threats to withdraw. The most painful type of withdrawal includes taking the grandchildren away.
This can present a real dilemma. In some families, the grandparents are the most stable people in a young child’s life. Emotionally unhealthy people think nothing of withholding their children from loving grandparents for one simple reason: they cannot or will not put their children’s needs above their own.
If you fear you are a victim of emotional blackmail, what can you do?
- Review your behaviors to see if you are doing anything that contributes to the problem.
- Decide what behaviors you are willing to tolerate and what is unacceptable.
- Stop paying the “ransom”. That is, stop giving in to the threats, tantrums, and rages. You are holding the purse strings. Recognize that often the most emotionally immature and dependent young people behave the worst toward their parents.
- That said, consider the risks involved if you stand your ground. Their behaviors may initially escalate, so things may get worse at least for a while.Your adult child may temporarily or even permanently withdraw from your life. You have to be willing to follow through with whatever consequences or actions you say you will take. Are you prepared to have your child withdraw from you or keep your grandchildren from you? This is too painful for some grandparents.
- Consider how you are feeling about yourself. If your self-worth is suffering, if you feel guilt and shame in the relationship, something is not right. Is this a relationship worth keeping as it is?
It’s easy to lose perspective with one’s own family members. Talk to others who know you. Get their input. Seek out and find a good therapist who can help you navigate these waters. A great resource on this topic is:
Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier (Mar 4, 1998)
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Posted on March 7, 2014 | 4 Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
It had to come to this:
High school senior is unhappy with her parents. She moves out and lives with a friend’s family. She sues her parents to pay for her senior year at a Catholic high school and four years of college, saying they owe her a college education.
Apparently in the first case of it’s kind, a young woman wants to force her mother and father to pay for her college education. According to the CNN article referenced above, eighteen year-old Rachel Canning said, “My parents simply will not help me any longer…(They) should be required to provide for my support and education until I can stand on my own two feet. In order to do this, I had to take legal action.”
This case could not be more timely, as parents and their children tackle the issue of who pays and how to pay for post-high school education. Ms. Canning would appear to reflect the “entitlement” attitude about which I have written many times. My fantasy is that she led a middle to upper middle class lifestyle and was denied little. Consequently it makes perfect sense to her that her parents shelve out the cash for high school and college expenses, regardless of her behavior toward them.
She and her parents clashed over her boyfriend, her cutting classes and curfews. Things escalated at home to where she left. She says they made her leave. They say she ran away after refusing to abide by the family’s rules. She refuses to come home. (Many parents say to their children, “If you want to live here, you’ve got to follow our rules.” And many teens do interpret that as being forced to leave.)
Arguments have been presented in court on both sides. Sean and Elizabeth Canning, the parents, are “dumbfounded.” Mrs. Canning says that they have always been their daughter’s “support team, cheering her on or defending her whenever she had a problem.” Ms. Canning, however, cites “verbal and emotional abuse” which the parents deny and which the local child protective services agency has ruled out.
According to court documents referenced by CNN, Ms. Canning stated that her parents stopped paying her high school tuition and “redirected” her college funds, a sign to her that they were refusing her an education.
In addition to her schooling, Ms. Canning wants her parents to pay for her legal expenses and room and board at the home where she has been staying. I can only imagine the intensity of emotions on both sides and an ever-increasing escalation of anger and hurt.
By going to court, the opportunity for reflection and resolution has been missed. The damage to the parent/child relationship has been done. These people needed a good family therapist more than a team of lawyers. One side may win in court, but ultimately both sides in this family will lose.
4 Responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Make Them Pay?”
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Posted on February 28, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
I love reading “Ask Amy”, the Chicago columnist who doles out insightful advice to her readers daily. Recently she ran some of her “best of” columns. One that caught my attention was a two-sentence letter from “Broken Hearted”, who asked how to get her boyfriend back. He had just broken up with her.
Amy’s response: “…stop caring. Once you really stop caring, they have a way of coming back. By then, of course…you don’t care.”
Easier said than done, but she makes an excellent point. If we chase after someone, be it a lover, parent, grandchild or grown child, it throws the relationship off balance. The person who is too much the pursuer is at a disadvantage. Her “stock”, so to speak declines in value. It is just in human nature for that to happen. The person doing too much or doing the chasing will be taken for granted.
Backing off when you sense that your efforts are bearing no fruit is wise. In the realm of our families this does not mean you truly stop caring. It may mean that you take a break to regain your own emotional equilibrium and perhaps your self-esteem. It is often then that one sees movement from the other family member in your direction.
I recall a woman whose son was in prison. She dutifully called him regularly when everyone else in the family had written him off. She drove miles to visit him. Do you think he was grateful? Sadly not. In fact, quite the opposite. He was nasty, harsh and critical toward her. After the calls, she felt depressed and worthless. But she unconditionally loved him and thought that meant she should just “take” whatever he would say and just keep loving him.
I said, “When he starts talking disrespectfully to you, tell him you need him to stop or you will hang up.” She wasn’t sure she could do this, but was willing to try. The next time they talked he resorted to his verbally abusive ways. She said, “please stop or I am going to hang up the phone.” He replied, “If you do that, I will never speak to you again.” Summoning all her courage, she ended the phone call.
Panicking that she had just destroyed their relationship, she collapsed in a chair. Only minutes later, the phone rang. You can guess who was calling; her son. And not only that, his entire tone with her changed. She had just discovered her own power and communicated her value to her son by setting some limits.
She stopped being the pursuer. He came back.
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Posted on February 21, 2014 | No Comments
by LInda Herman, LMHC
There are certain sayings that arise from each generation with regard to life and careers. In the 60’s and 70’s the message to women, at least, was “you can have it all,” or “you can do it all.” Surely we baby boomers heard this, with many of us buying into it. The result of trying to live this “truth” was discovering another: everything has its price. Our mothers were pretty much denied any messages to “go for it”, so we forged ahead, unaware of the unintended consequences that took the form of anxiety, stress, guilt and an increase in divorces. Not that our striving itself caused the upheaval, but we, our spouses/partners and children were in uncharted territory as we rewrote how families lived. The result was some turmoil as people tried out new roles and “ways of being.”
As life in America changed and opportunities for many seemed boundless, another phrase took hold: “follow your passions.” People coming out of college in the 1980’s, when jobs were plentiful and the economy was roaring, were able to take that bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (a well-rounded education) and land good jobs. While parents had trepidations, there was enough confidence in the country and the growing economy to fuel young people’s dreams.
The idea of following one’s passions fit well with self-improvement talk and theory, and with the notion that we were marching up Maslow’s hierarchy toward self-actualization. We were the generation that could do it all and we gave that message to our children.
But, how things have changed!
Today’s America will no longer support the idea of simply following your dreams. NYU professor Mary Quigley, in her blog at www.mothering21.com, on 2/18/14, writes: “ ‘Follow your passion’ might be one of the most perilous pieces of advice ever doled out to our children.” She lays out convincing facts that paint a wizened and sobering picture. For example, she says that nearly two thirds of college graduates have jobs that don’t even require a college degree and under thirty percent have jobs that relate to their major at all. Ms. Quigley references several authors who promote new messages for the young college graduates: Find paying work and develop your skills. This can lead to happiness, self-fulfillment, and a passion for what you do. You need not forget about your dreams, but let them occupy your evenings and weekends. Positioning yourself for a decent standard of living comes first.
Good advice to pass on to young adults embarking on their post-high school or college years. For more from Mary Quigley, read her complete blog posting at Follow Your Passion at Your Peril |, Mothering21. com.
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Posted on February 14, 2014 | No Comments
By Linda Herman, LMHC
When it comes to love for our partners, families, children, and even friends, we all have expectations. We may expect unconditional loyalty in our relationships, forever love, or even disappointment in the area of that magnificent emotion.
The Beatles said, you will recall, “All you need is love.” Ah, were it that simple. People sometimes do what they think is a loving thing, only to have that misread by the object of their affection. How my clients sometimes long for a particular form of loving that their partners, adult children, or even friends don’t deliver! Sadly, disappointment ensues.
Considering the actual complexity of giving and receiving love, Valentine’s Day is a good day for reviewing Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. Dr. Chapman has published a Love Language series that began in 1992 with The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. That phenomenal book has led to others aimed at helping singles, parents of children, teens, and adult children, and even those in the workplace.
So here they are. As you read them, think of the ways that you enjoy giving and receiving love. You will find that you may enjoy several, but tend to have a favorite. Then consider your loved ones. What is their love language? Perhaps you’ve been receiving love in a “language” that you have not recognized. Understanding what your family, partner or friends prefer will lead to better appreciation in your relationships.
- Words of Affirmation – The person who prefers this form of love is emotionally uplifted by compliments and kind words. These mean much more than material gifts. Nothing may inspire a woman more than to be the recipient of encouraging language from the special people in her life. Just as her spirits can be buoyed with supportive statements, they can as readily be dashed when spoken to harshly.
- Acts of Service− You may have a partner or spouse who is short on words, but doesn’t hesitate to see to it that you have fresh coffee or tea in the morning. He may take extra time to see that your car always has a full tank of gas and is sparkling inside and out. This person enjoys giving love by doing. A woman who prefers receiving this kind of love may appreciate that bouquet of roses, but secretly wish that her husband joined her outside as she prepared her garden for spring planting.
- Gifts – Some people enjoy giving or receiving gifts as their preferred expression of love. A woman who prefers this love language may put great thought into selecting presents for others. Similarly, she thrives when she receives a gift from a loved one. It is a physical symbol that tells her “He was thinking of me.” The size or material value of the gift may be irrelevant. She will admire her gift, knowing that her loved one took the time to choose it for her. Because of the meaning gifts hold for her, being forgotten on special days can feel especially hurtful.
- Quality Time – We’ve heard a lot about quality time over the years and how important it is for our children. But we adults love it as well. A man who thrives on this kind of love wants his partner or spouse to really “be” with him. It does not mean dinner out with his wife while she texts her friend. It means being available, making eye contact, and setting down the cell phone. A gift of time is a gift of yourself. Quality time happens when you listen without rushing to give advice, when you don’t interrupt, when you are truly in the present with your partner. Being so busy that you don’t set aside quality time will leave your loved one feeling neglected and unimportant.
- Physical Touch− Have you ever known someone from a touchy, hugging family who married into a family that was just the opposite? This can create challenges as well as opportunities. This is not just about sex. People who most prefer physical touch as their way of receiving love may enjoy hugs, touches to their arm, face or shoulders. In intimate relationships they like hand-holding, caresses, sitting close together. This kind of loving takes little time, but sends powerful messages. An absence or withdrawal of physical touch may be experienced as abandonment.
More questions about love languages? Check out Gary Chapman’s website at http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/
There is nothing wrong with having great expectations about love, but you’ll fare better when these are tempered with understanding the languages you and your loved ones speak.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
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Posted on February 7, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman
I cannot not comment on the Seahawks celebrated homecoming and parade this week. But I hope to go beyond the bragging rights of someone living in the Seattle area.
From the day after Superbowl Sunday through last night, almost all of my clients wanted to talk about the Hawks, the game, the parade, the celebrations. Everyone’s spirits, including those of some of my most depressed clients, were buoyed. I have never seen such a mass of excitement and goodwill towards a team, or such a sense of pride in its accomplishments. Fans and non-sports fans alike were touched. It was a week of grace and goodwill here in western Washington.
The last time I witnessed such a unanimous outpouring of feeling here was on Sept. 11, 2001. Only that was an occasion of mass grief.
There is something to be learned from both events, but I will focus today on this week in the Seattle area.
I like to look for meaning in everyday life situations, as these often carry powerful lessons. Here are some of my observations:
- People identified with their home team and took pride in the team’s achievements. No one was talking about the race of the team members or the race of the fans.
- Though not a serious follower of sports generally, I know that professional athletes are paid well. I never heard a word about the pay of the team members, nor the fact that their salaries dwarf those of their fans. No one was begrudging them for their success. To the contrary, their success uplifted the fans. Friends and families had a reason to get together. People shared a common pride. Businesses in the local area flourished.
- Now, if only the politicians could take some notes here. If we look at our communities or nation as a family, how is it helpful to focus so much on our differences? Is our nation uplifted when one group is encouraged to think that they are always on the losing end of the culture because of their race, gender preference, country of origin, or income? Should those who are more successful feel bad about their success?
- I know what works and does not work in families. Pitting one person in a family against another is beyond divisive. It is damaging to the fabric of that family unit. Doing that on the national level is deplorable.
- A family’s emotional survival depends on finding enough commonality and goodwill to be the glue that gets its members through the difficult times. Our nation’s emotional health is at stake right now. We need to be brought together, not driven apart. Our leaders have the capacity and responsibility to do this. Sadly, I’m not seeing much move in a unifying direction.
The Seahawks brought unity to Seattle and the greater area this week. I saw the results and will savor them for a long time.
Politicians, are you listening?
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Posted on January 31, 2014 | 3 Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
The Versatile Cotton Ball
We’ve had them in our bathrooms for years. Those little fluffs of cotton used for removing nail polish, makeup, mildew from damp corners, or scents from your fridge. Now they are being used to remove something else: pounds. That’s right.
One of the latest diet trends with tweens and teens is to dip cotton balls into orange juice or lemonade and then chew and swallow up to five of them. The dieter feels full, doesn’t consume many calories and voila, becomes or stays thin.
Where did this come from? Some say models have been eating cotton balls for years, but as do other trade secrets, this one leaked out. Perhaps we baby boomers are among the last to learn the latest in weight management. But all you have to do is go to YouTube for live demonstrations by young girls.
Thankfully, experts in eating disorders are on top of this, citing two main problems with this kind of weight loss program. For one thing, eating the “balls” is not like taking an appetite-suppressing medication. The soaked balls are indigestible and can cause intestinal blockages that may lead to the need for surgery. Second, most of today’s cotton balls are not cotton at all. They are made from bleached polyester. The individual on this diet is not getting nutrients. While feeling full, she could be on her road to malnutrition or even starving.
As long as there is the need to eat and cultures that value thinness, weight-loss experimentation and obsession will go on. The cotton ball diet, say the experts, is not truly a diet, however. It qualifies as an eating disorder.
I took a look at statistics in the UK, (from the Health and Social Care Information Centre) as reported in the Daily Telegraph 1/29/14 www.telegraph.co.uk.
Here is some of what I found:
The number of admissions to hospitals for eating disorders is increasing annually.
The biggest increase in admissions to hospitals for eating disorders is in the 10 – 19 age group.
Of almost 1200 admissions for children 16 and under, 32 were ages five to nine; six were under the age of five.
Nine times as many girls as boys are admitted to the hospital for eating disorders, with the most common age being 15.
Here in the US, the National Eating Disorders Association, ww.nationaleatingdisorders.org, has some of its own shocking statistics:
81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
42% of 1st – 3rd grade girls want to be thinner>
46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often “ on diets and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.
Since many baby boomers have the opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of their grandchildren, knowing what they are exposed to can be helpful. Beyond that, reinforce healthy food and activity choices. As a grandparent you need not be the food police. Those with weight problems know it, and may already be in food battles at home. Take the opportunity to show your unconditional love and your wisdom.
(And If the cotton ball craze comes up in conversation, be ready to calmly serve up the facts.)