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Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: Hiatus

Posted on February 28, 2015 | No Comments

Hello to all my blog readers!

I have been blogging weekly to biweekly since May 2012 and have enjoyed researching, writing and posting, as well as viewing reader comments.

Because I have taken on some additional activities, I am having to create more room in my schedule.  I will not be blogging for the next two months.

I will check in during the month of May. If my schedule permits, I will resume at that time.

Thanks for your readership. Please feel free to contact me through my email at linda@lindaherman.com. If you post a comment to a previous blog, it will also appear in my email.

Kind regards,

Linda

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Friday Food for Thought: A Mother’s Love on Valentine’s Day

Posted on February 14, 2015 | 3 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

A Mother’s Love on Valentine’s Day

Loving a child is easy when that child is easy to love. Since I write mostly about adult children, the relationships between mothers and their adult children is my focus this evening.

We’ve all stood at the Hallmark card display seeking the perfect card for expressing our love of family. Once purchased, we may add additional sentiments inside before mailing the cards. While sealing the envelope and affixing the stamp, our minds may revisit recent or distant moments where our love was given and reciprocated. Sliding the envelope into the mailbox is the final act in this, our ritual of showing our devotion.

There is an entire group of mothers however, who would give almost anything (and almost everything) to be the recipient of their children’s tenderness. These are the moms whose adult children have chosen to ignore, shun, reject or openly be hateful to them.  They are caught in an emotional storm, experiencing frustration, rejection, guilt, and anger themselves.

But almost every woman to whom I’ve spoken, who finds herself in this situation, loves her child despite that child’s actions. I have communicated with women across the country whose stories are unique, but with some common threads. These include having children whose lives are ruled by substance abuse and those with severe mental illness. Some have brushes with the law. Frequently, as part of loving their children, the mothers (and fathers) have gone the distance to keep their children alive and get them help.  Hospitalizations, bail, jail, physical and emotional abuse, attorneys, family therapies, loans, gifts of money, caring for the grandchildren, and paying for living expenses have been part of their lives. Perhaps as part of addiction or mental illness (or just pure manipulation)many of these adult children are experts at guilt-making, with loving mothers succumbing again and again to their accusations and pleas.

But there is another group of adult children who, for all intents and purposes, live “normal” existences. They have no significant history to explain what becomes a complete rejection of their parents. What these young people often have in common is having been very close to Mom and Dad through their teen years. Hence it is especially mind-boggling to parents to have their offspring almost surgically remove themselves from their families as adults. Mothers ask repeatedly what they have done to warrant the rejecting behavior.

I describe the children as having rewritten the family history.  The history of their making points to perceived slights from years prior, long-held grudges, comparisons and jealousy toward other siblings.  Frequently, these young adults appear delayed in emotional emancipation, or appropriate differentiation from their parents. Parents may not be spending money on bail and attorneys, but they often are seeking treatment for themselves.

The adult children about whom I am writing are not easy to love. But their mothers do love them. They may have to protect their hearts (and sometimes their physical selves) from the injuries that these children bestow upon them.  They may seek out comfort and reassurance from professionals, friends and other family members.  Whereas most of us hope and expect to give and receive love from our sons and daughters, these moms aspire to, if not love, then at least some peace of mind.

May you find meaning, comfort  and love in your lives, through your either your own personal family members  or through those who become families of the heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to “Friday Food for Thought: A Mother’s Love on Valentine’s Day”

  1. Evelyn says:

    Wonderful thoughts on a difficult subject that is often a hurt that is kept hidden inside.

  2. Mary says:

    I have one of those difficult to love adult children. It hurts, and I struggle. Thank you for the encouragement and for showing us we are not alone.

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Friday Food for Thought: Just Who Are the Freshmen at American Colleges?

Posted on February 6, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Just Who are the Freshmen at American Colleges?

We have up -to-date answers from the 50th annual CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program)

Among their findings are the following:

Over a third of the freshman entering college in the Fall of 2014 expect to that they will need more than four years to complete their bachelor’s degrees. This statistic varies depending on whether a student is attending a more or less selective school. Those at less selective colleges and universities are more likely to take longer to graduate, in part, because more of those students think they will need remedial classes.

There has been a significant increase in the number of students planning to get either a master’s or doctoral degree as their ultimate objective. In 1974 that figure was just 28.1%. In 2014, 43.6% of entering students have their sights set on graduate degrees.

There is a growing discrepancy between the numbers of women and men in four-year institutions, with women comprising a larger percent of students. Along with the rise in the number of female students is a corresponding rise in their degree ambitions. Today, 36% of women plan to earn a doctorate or first professional degree, while only 29.4% of men have the same goal. Forty years ago, the figures were 15.3 % for women and 26.3% for men.

Students’ self-ratings of their emotional health are at the lowest point ever recorded. Only 50.7% rated themselves as above average in terms of emotional well-being. At the other end of the spectrum, 9.5% of students reported feeling frequently depressed. Those same students were twice as likely to arrive late to class or fall asleep in class. As one might expect, colleges are reporting record numbers of visits to their counseling centers (http://jobs.chronicle.com/article/Seeking-Help-at-a-Campus/149321/)

Alcohol and tobacco use has taken a sharp drop and is at its lowest level in 30 years. Only 33.5% of incoming freshmen report that they frequently or occasionally drank beer, compared to 74.2% in 1981. While  9.2% of freshmen reported smoking cigarettes in 1981, the figure dropped to only 1.7% in 2014. These trends mirror what has occurred in the population at large. Interestingly, those students who rated themselves as drinkers in high school predicted that they would be less likely to participate in college groups or clubs, and that they would be less likely to have a “B” average in college.

Finally, students’ self-reports of partying and socializing with friends is at an all time low. In 1987, for example, 37.9% of students reportedly socializing 16+ hours a week; in 2014, the figure is 18%.  The number of students who report partying less than an hour per week increased from 24.3% in 1987 to 61% in 2014. These same students indicate that they put increasing value on the social offerings at their colleges, while also relying increasingly on online social networks.

There is much information here to digest. We are all challenged to interpret the survey’s results and consider how they may apply to young people in our own lives.

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Friday Food for Thought: What About the Children?

Posted on January 31, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Posted Saturday, 1/31/15

 

This is a question I have heard repeatedly since writing Parents to the End. I heard it again two days ago, asked by a mom/grandmother. She wasn’t talking about her grown children, but her children’s children.  Her adult children are doing well. They are respected professionals in their fields. But this woman has some concerns about the way her kids are parenting their own.

She is not alone.

In radio interviews and conversations across the country, as well as in my office, baby boomers are weighing in on this topic. They say, “I worry about the next generation of children. What will they be like?” While each generation differs somewhat in how it parents, some concerns are legitimate.

Here are two examples:

  • A woman bemoans her adult son and his significant other living with them along with their three-year old. The young couple is not particularly motivated to take the next step towards independence. They don’t have enough money to pay rent, but manage to go to Starbucks several times a week. Their son is dropped from grandparent to grandparent, while his dad and mom each have a girl’s and guy’s night out weekly. The grandparents think that the grandson, who has every toy imaginable, is actually being neglected by his parents.
  • A well-heeled couple, in a rush to get to their respective jobs daily, deals with the children’s whining by promising surprises at the end of each workday. The kids calm down, but fully expect some new distractions when Mommy and Daddy get home.  Heaven forbid if they forget to make that stop at the store after work. Grandma wonders about the messages sent with the constant delivery of new toys.

I observed this next example two days ago in a restaurant. A family of five came in at about the same time that my husband and I did. The group included the mom and dad, their preteen daughter, and what appeared to be the two grandfathers. It initially looked like a happy group. Since they were sitting at a table next to ours, I had a good opportunity to casually observe. The grandparents and the girl repeatedly initiated conversations with the parents. But during the somewhat long wait for dinner to be served−it was a busy place−the parents eyes were focused on their phones. They were each almost oblivious to the presence of everyone else, as they texted the entire time. Their daughter, who was sitting next to them in the booth, watched them closely with her elbow on the table and her chin resting on the palm of her hand. I wondered if this was business as usual for her. Occasionally the parents would glance up, but mostly when they responded their faces were still directed at the phones.

What a missed opportunity for all.

None of us were or ever will be perfect parents. But there are some lessons that benefit all children. These situations reminded me of a few of these lessons:

  1. Children need to learn to deal with delayed gratification. It is not the real world to have it all and have it right now.
  2. Whining should not be reinforced, whatever the reason.
  3. Time with family is the most precious gift of all. The best present is your presence. You are not fully there if you are preoccupied with texting or another activity. It is good to take breaks from your “connections” to your wireless world and to connect with the person sitting next to you.

 

 

 

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Friday Food For Thought: Living our Intentions

Posted on January 16, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Last week I wrote about “intentions” and the challenge of living intentionally while also being able to “be” in the moment.

Today I want to discuss these ideas further. To live with intention is to know our values, purpose, and meaning.

Our intentions are guidelines, giving us the framework in which to go about our daily lives. How easy it is to forget our intentions when we feel hurt, angry or thwarted. If we lived fully in the moment when very upset, we might be like the toddler who has a temper tantrum when his toy is snatched away. We would be consumed with emotion, paying no attention to our overall “intention.”

Emotions can run strong among family members. People often come to therapy when situations have escalated to a point where feelings are raw. They cannot see beyond their immediate hurt and anger. At least for the time being, their intentions have been set aside.

They may want to strike back (hopefully just verbally), or do just the opposite: withdraw. My first task in such a situation is to just listen. People cannot begin to consider other ways of addressing problems if they do not feel heard or understand first.

I may reflect their feelings back to them, checking to be sure that I am getting the entire picture as they see it.

While I may understand someone’s desire to “let the other person have it”, I know that doing so is not without consequences, especially if the retribution is loaded with harsh actions or words. It is then that I suggest that we look at “intentions.”

I ask the following kinds of questions:  What is the goal here of your response, to build up or tear down? Do you want to get closer or create more distance with this person?

This generally leads to some reflection. I don’t tell my clients what they “should” do; rather I suggest that particular paths of action are likely to be damaging to a relationship, while others may lead  to a closer bond. Most of the time, people really don’t want to “tear down” or make things worse. But they are not sure how to respond to the emotional injury they feel.

Therapists can help clients come up with alternatives to what has not been working. This does not mean sugar-coating a negative reply. But it will mean taking out language that negatively labels or demeans another.  It means being aware of language that has elements like “you always…” or “you never…”

My role is to help people clarify their language so that they can  say what they like, don’t like, want and don’t want in a relationship. They can be very pointed, while not diminishing the other at all.

Living in the present is not easy. Knowing your intentions/purpose is an invaluable guide along the way.

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Friday Food for Thought: What about those New Year’s Resolutions?

Posted on January 10, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman–Posted Saturday, 1/10/15

What about those New Year’s Resolutions?

We are well into our second week of 2015. You may have given a great deal of thought to your  “resolutions” for the coming months. Some years ago, I stopped making resolutions. I began considering my “intentions” for the coming year. To live with “intention” is to consider thoughtfully how you want to be.

The word “intention” suggests that you are choosing particular paths or values and intend to live by those choices.  It is not a black and white resolution that you may break after several days, e.g. “I won’t eat fast food;” or “I will exercise 3 times a week.” Synonyms for “intention” include:  meaning, purpose, aim, objective, target, goal, plan. Rather than resolving to exercise 3 times a week, someone may have the intention of making healthier choices, or increasing activity level. A resolution, once broken, is broken. An intention has longer staying power.

Intentions are guidelines; resolutions are more like directives.

Yet, intentions give us direction. They are more subtle and have more depth than resolutions.

A challenge I experience is finding the balance between living with intention and living in the here and now. In the 1970s, therapist Barry Stevens wrote  a book entitled  Don’t Push the River; It Flows by Itself. I know when I am pushing against the river. It is when I am mentally leaning into something or a situation and it feels like a battle. There is no sense of “flow”. I never make my best decisions when I am in the mode of mentally pushing hard toward something. That is a signal for me to step back and re-examine my intentions and how I am going about expressing them in my life. I advise my clients to do the same, to pause at those moments, and reconsider their approach to their particular challenges.

It can be very helpful to “be” in the moment, or be mindful of the moment as a way of staying  present-focused.  Doing so is a great antidote to anxiety and depression, as we are consumed with neither the future nor the past.  But also essential to meaningful living is to have that sense of direction or purpose. That gives us the framework and the security to go about our business, whether that means focusing on achieving specific goals or allowing answers to reveal themselves.

Just as young children need structure within which to be “free”, we adults do as well. Knowing our purpose, values− our intentions−is an important starting point not just in the new year, but every day of our lives.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part VI

Posted on December 26, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Today is the last Friday of the year.  For each of the past five Fridays, I have reviewed two of my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children.  I thought the topic quite timely, as each of us moved into the holiday season with our own set of expectations for ourselves and our families. The “truths” are from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Here are the ten truths I have covered thus far:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.
  7. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.
  8. You cannot choose your child’s partner.
  9.  Only you can decide how long to “hang in there.”
  10. Disagreement may be a sign of emotional growth.

Here are the final two:

11. What is normal for one family is abnormal for another.

It is just about impossible not to compare your family with someone else’s. But be careful when you do so. Today, especially, there is a variety of family constellations. Besides the literal composition of the family (who specifically is part of your family), there are differing family styles. Is your family loud, or might yours be soft-spoken? Does everyone know everyone else’s business, or do family members keep personal details to themselves? Your own personality may fit in well with your family’s general style, or you may feel that yours stands out.

As I say in my book, “…variations (in family types) are natural and expected. The more important consideration is how the family is working for its members….Attuned parents will try to meet the needs of each child, even when those needs and preferences differ from their own.” As your own children have grown up, they have both the opportunity and responsibility to create their own style of family.  Do your best to honor their choices, assuming they are reasonably healthy.

12. Sometimes the route to increased closeness lies in tolerating separateness.

This may be the most difficult truth to understand; it seems contradictory.  How can moving apart be the way to get closer?  I spend considerable time in Parents to the End discussing the themes of separation and individuation. These developmental phenomena appear periodically in one’s lifetime:  toddlerhood, the teen years, young adulthood. During these periods, children have a growing sense of themselves as separate from their parents.  This is normal and necessary for young people, but can be uncomfortable for both parent and child. It may mean emotional distance for a time in the teens and early adulthood, as the young person matures and becomes fully his/her own person.  Friction may increase. Usually this is temporary.

However, we have to let go of our children for them to return to us.  We have to learn to tolerate and respect differing views and opinions, with the expectation that this respect is mutual.  If you and your child are unable have the kind of relationship you want, find people with whom you can forge meaningful  connections. You deserve it.

 

 

I wish you the best as you reflect on your  holiday experiences. May 2015 bring you peace and happiness.

Note: This series has been quite popular. If you have a topic that you’d like to see explored in some depth, please email me at linda@lindaherman.com.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part V

Posted on December 19, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

With just one more Friday left in 2014 after today, my series featuring the Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children continues.  In many families, the expectations for holiday get-togethers far exceed the reality of what actually occurs. Whatever your situation, you may find some merit in considering the “truths” from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Starting four weeks ago, I have featured two “truths” per week. Thus far, the following eight have been discussed:

  1. Love does not conquer all. 
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.
  7. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.
  8. You cannot choose your child’s partner.

Here are the next two:

  1.  Only you can decide how long to “hang in there.”

As parents we never want to give up on our children. We think that to do so is a sign of abandonment. For parents who are struggling with how long to hang in there with a challenging young adult, their situation produces anguish. On the one hand, some well-meaning family members and professionals advocate a “tough love” approach: “Let him hit bottom; it may be good for him.” At the same time, others tell them to just keep loving that child. What is a parent to do?

 

The answer is one that only the parents can give. They, not the professionals or extended family, have to live with the results of their decision. Parents who have reached their limit, have usually exhausted emotional, physical and financial resources before deciding to halt their efforts. I tell them that at that point in time, their grown child is just unable or unwilling to take their assistance. It is okay to shift their efforts from healing a child to healing themselves.

 

  1.  Disagreement may be a sign of emotional growth.

Parents of teens who have been previously compliant become upset when that young person begins challenging them.  In some families, this happens quite early (preteens or early teens); in others it happens later. Since I am always looking for the healthy things that are going in a family, I keep that in mind when trying to understand a situation. When the disagreement is relatively mild, it can be more easily absorbed by the parents. But when it is moderate to “full force”, it is harder to understand and take.

As young people work at “the dance of differentiation”, as I call it in Parents to the End, they will increasingly have views contrary to those of their parents.  Be careful not to look at this as a bad thing.  It can be a sign of their growth. Consider your child’s developmental stage and temperament when such actions occur.

So, when you gather at the holiday dining table, and the political disagreements begin, remember that your child may be doing some healthy and normal work in his development. As always, there is a line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Don’t tolerate actions that are rude or abusive.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part IV

Posted on December 12, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part IV

As the holidays get closer, my series featuring the Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children continues.  In many families, the expectations for get-togethers far exceed the reality of what actually occurs. Whatever your situation, you may find some merit in considering the “truths” from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Starting three weeks ago, I have featured two “truths” per week. Thus far, the following six have been discussed:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.

Here are the next two:

  1. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.

This is one of the most difficult truths for parents. It goes against our instinct to nurture and protect our children.  However, as I say in my book, “there is a time for nurturing and a time for stepping aside, a time for protecting and a time for letting consequences happen as they may.” There may be no better lessons in life than those we learn through natural consequences. Avoiding letting our children experience these impedes their growth. If you pay your child’s speeding ticket, you increase the likelihood that he will continue speeding. Let him pay it himself so that he feels the pinch in his wallet. That will be a better deterrent than all the lectures you can give him about driving more slowly.

If we rescue our children from all of life’s  frustrations, we risk interfering with their developing coping skills.  Do we want them to have unrealistic expectations about life, e.g. that “happiness” should be the norm? If that is their belief, they will be set up for great disappointment.

  1.  You cannot choose your child’s partner.

People are reminded of this truth especially during the holidays, when family members gather under the same roof. You may not care for your child’s partner/spouse, but respect his or her choice. In the vast majority of situations, loyalty to one’s partner trumps loyalty to parents’ preferences.

Our children taught us lessons as they were growing up. They continue to do so. A father may learn to seek the positives in someone who is quite different from himself. A mother may have her stereotypes shattered with her daughter’s choice of a young man with multiple tattoos and piercings. Most of us give lip service, at least, to wanting our children to be individuals. Let’s not punish them when they assert their individuality in the choice of partner or lifestyle.

If you think that your child is being abused in a relationship, that is another matter. Be direct about your observations and concerns.  Offer your support in whatever form that may take, but remember that the decision to stay or leave an abusive relationship is his/her decision.

 

 

 

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Friday Food For Thought: Great Expectations III

Posted on December 5, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part III

We are in the holiday season. Expectations for family fun and togetherness may reach a peak at this time of year.  With great expectations comes the possibility of great disappointment. As an antidote to the media hype of the holidays, I am posting my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children on the six Fridays prior to the New Year (two per week).

So far, I’ve discussed the first four:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.

Today, we look at two more:

5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.

If there are times of year when people feel more guilt, the holidays are at or near the top of the list. Many of us were motivated growing up by the specter of being “made to feel guilty” if we did not visit certain relatives during the holiday season. It is wonderful when family members can come together with open hearts and warmth toward one another, but that is not always the case.

Do your best not to motivate friends or family into visits or activities through guilt-making. As I say in Parents to the End, “Endeavoring to make someone feel guilty as a way of influencing their behavior may foster compliance, but it comes with obvious disadvantages. Anytime you have to quietly disgrace someone into taking the action you want, you win the battle, but lose the war. It is far better to have an honest conversation about your needs, desires, and disappointments than to disguise your wishes through innuendo.”

Try to keep in mind that your needs and desires may differ from those of other family members. This does not mean that either of you is wrong. Compromise, when possible, can be an effective way to bridge differences of opinion.

  1.   Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.

Actually, this applies to all of us. If you do get into some heated discussion with your adult child (or others), you will have a greater chance of getting through the conflict if you can at least acknowledge the other person’s point of view. This does not mean that you are agreeing with that person. It just means that you have listened to and recognized his/her position. Very often that is all that is wanted. In my work, I have seen situations of work conflict escalate and even go to court when the affronted party had really only wanted to have his thoughts or feelings acknowledged.

Do you have a challenging adult child or other important person coming for the holidays? Rather than engaging in an effort to convert that person to your viewpoint, put your energy to letting that person know that you truly “hear” him.  Again, from my book, “the very act of recognizing someone’s position, even as it differs from your own, is a powerful facilitator for communication. The listener will begin to lower his ‘wall’ of defenses and become more open to suggestion.”

As I have stated in prior blogs,  abusive communication and behavior are never acceptable.

 

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