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Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought : The Right to Say “No”

Posted on March 22, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

This is “Right No. 8” in The Bill of Rights for Parents of Adult Children in Parents to the End. And it’s not really a right. It is an obligation.

Let me explain. When our children were little, we uttered that word frequently to keep them from touching hot stoves, running out into the street, or sticking their fingers into electrical outlets.  We did this to begin giving them lessons about safety in and outside of the home.

As people grow up and become more attuned to the conversational “dance” in relationships, it gets harder to say “no”. We worry about hurting feelings; we may not want to look bad in the eyes of others, so we sometimes take on tasks and activities about which we are at best lukewarm, cannot afford, or actually dislike.

In the realm of parenting, kids who have heard “no” growing up are better prepared to face the real world.  Thinking that life will always yield to their demands is a set-up for disappointment.  In addition, saying “yes” when you mean “no” sends a mixed message. Our children can usually tell when our heart is not in what we are doing. The inauthentic “yes” is confusing and can lead to erosion of trust.

Some women (and men) get so caught up in always saying “yes” to family and friends that they tell me in therapy they  have lost themselves. They don’t even know who they are anymore.  This isn’t a pleasant place to be.  There is great power in that simple two-letter word.  Not only did it help our young children by giving them boundaries and the security and that comes with limits, but it protects us as adults as well.  You will be stressed if you make payments on your child’s car or condo if you really cannot afford to, or babysit repeatedly if you’re feeling unappreciated.  Conversely, there is tremendous relief and energy savings in being honest with family and friends.

The ability to say “no” makes a heartfelt “yes” more likely. Respect  your emotional, physical and financial limitations; see what that does for you and others.

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Friday Food for Thought : Poptarts to Pistols to Resilient Kids?

Posted on March 15, 2013 | No Comments

Many of you have undoubtedly heard about the seven year-old in Maryland who was suspended for chewing a Poptart into the shape of a pistol. As a former school psychologist and current psychotherapist, I am interested in how schools respond to situations. Apparently, the school district made counselors available the following day to speak to children who felt they had been traumatized by this incident.

Are they kidding? Labeling this event as a trauma does nothing to help children. In fact, it may even disable children’s natural potential for developing resiliency, because it sends the message that this was a dangerous event. This raises anxiety.

As a therapist I work with children and adults who must cope with real crises in their lives. Regardless of one’s age, people can be deeply affected by their life experiences. One of the strategies I (and other therapists) use is from the cognitive behavioral therapy perspective.  It teaches people to examine their feelings and accompanying thoughts. Some thoughts are healthy, while others can be irrational; e.g. “I will never be able to ride in an elevator.” By changing how we think, we can often change our feelings. Children get excited−and feel empowered−to know that they can help themselves feel better by changing some of their thoughts to more appropriate and healthy ones.

Are children going to be empowered (and are they going to develop resilience) if they are taught to think that a pistol-shaped Poptart (especially with an accompanying “pop” sound) is a threat to their well-being?

I think not. What do you think?

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Friday Food For Thought : Wait Just a Minute!

Posted on March 1, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman

What’s this? Pessimists live longer than “overly optimistic” people? That’s what has been reported by the American Psychological Association.  Researchers at the University of Erlang-Nuremberg in Germany  studied people’s attitudes about the future.  They concluded that those who are pessimistic about what their lives will look like in 5 years tend to be more cautious in how they live in the present. This translates to paying more attention to their health and taking safety precautions. And because of being careful and paying more attention to their health, they live longer.

We might expect that people with more financial resources might be among those that take better care of their health.  So is it that negative people with the financial means to take better care of themselves live longer and with less disability?

Nope.  Wrong again.  People with higher income were at more risk of disability.

Now what do we do with this information besides scratch our collective heads?

I’d like to see the details of this study, as well as other studies on the same topic. And maybe therapists need to rethink  their efforts to help clients have more positive outlooks.  Might that just endanger their health?

A little pessimism may go a long ways.

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Friday Food For Thought : “What About my Feelings?”

Posted on February 22, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

I hear this question with some frequency in my office.  A woman may say that to her husband, or a child may say the same thing to his parent. Once uttered, conversations sometimes come to a halt. A feeling has been hurt; now what? For some, that rises to the level of a major offense.

In today’s culture, feelings have become front and center in the national dialogue. It seems that it is no longer okay to be offended or uncomfortable. This attitude is not healthy. If we are restricted in our communication to only saying what won’t “make someone uncomfortable”, then true communication is not occurring.

One of our tasks as parents is to help our children cope with what life dishes out to them. That includes handling the minor affronts that inevitably come in relationships with friends, siblings, and even Mom and Dad. It will be crippling to children to see themselves as victims every time their feelings are hurt.

Let’s teach children (and remind ourselves) that sometimes they (and we) are going to be uncomfortable. We can do that by acknowledging their feelings, and then helping them move forward.  In our adult relationships, we can consider the validity of the comment made by the other person. If it is someone with whom we are close, perhaps he may have our best interest at heart. Or, he just may be angry because his feelings were hurt.

If you are invested emotionally in the relationship, don’t let the conversation stop. Talk with the person to understand what is going on. (Do, however, distinguish between minor affronts and verbal abuse. The latter is never okay and requires a different approach.)

And a final note: if you have any negative comments about this piece, please keep them to yourself. Don’t hurt my feelings. :)

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Friday Food for Thought

Posted on February 15, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Dear Parents out there,

A new study by Holly Schiffrin from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia (reported 2/13/13 by Reuters) confirms what others, including myself, have been writing about: young adult children in college whose lives are micromanaged by their parents have a higher incidence of depression and dissatisfaction with life.

People gain confidence from increasing their mastery over their lives, by gradually making more of their own decisions, and by living with the natural consequences of their choices.  We become strengthened through our challenges. When parents do too much two things happen: 1. Children and adult children are actually robbed of the opportunity to learn through experience (thus also depriving them of confidence-building activities); 2. They receive a message from Mom or Dad that says “we don’t have faith that you can do this yourself. Therefore, we must be right there with you at all times.”

You actually disempower your young person when you are overzealous in your parenting. You both deserve better than that.

If this sounds like you, consider ways in which you can gradually let go of the reins. This may be met with initial resistance because your child is accustomed to another style of parenting. But by doing so, you are helping him take a giant step in the direction of true adulthood.

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Friday Food for Thought : That Loving Feeling

Posted on February 8, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. We associate it with roses, chocolates and romantic love. But what is romantic love? And how does it differ from mature love?

I had the opportunity today to attend a seminar today led by clinical psychologist Jim Fogarty, who spoke on the topic of emotional manipulators. These people depend on their victim’s distorted views of love to  keep them in unhealthy relationships. With a lover’s holiday imminent, it’s a great time to review the differences between the two types of love.

Romantic love is the early phase of love. We are “in love”(and lust) with the object of our affections. He or she is nothing short of perfect. We want to spend all our waking moments together. We are ecstatic, elated, and to be sure, our hormones are elevated! There is a great function to this aspect of love: it encourages bonding between two people. But hormone levels that are elevated will, within twelve to eighteen months, level out.  Then what?

If in the course of getting to know your lover, you find mutual understanding, respect, and common values; if you share similar visions of your future, then you may have found your long-term match. You can reveal your true self with the confidence that you are in an emotionally safe place and are free to enjoy the small as well as major moments with this trusted companion. This is mature love.

Hopefully we get to experience both kinds of love in our lifetimes. And as for the chocolates and roses, they work just fine with either kind.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Friday Food for Thought : A Boomer, a Bird, and a Gas Station

Posted on January 25, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman

So I was driving to my office yesterday morning, with just a few minutes to spare. Far from being in a state of mindfulness, I alternated my attention between watching the traffic on the road and thinking about the clients I’d be meeting with for the day.

Stopping at a light at a major intersection, my eyes drifted to the gas station on the corner. And there they were: a baby boomer with graying hair pumping gas and her regal white cockatoo. No, he wasn’t  flitting about the interior of the car. He was strutting his stuff on the top edge of the window of the open car door.

My mind immediately shifted gears;  I was transfixed by the sight of that bird prancing and bobbing to the rhythm, I fantasized, of the gas flowing from the pump into the owner’s vehicle.

That woman and her bird did me a favor.  Besides making me smile with delight, they brought my attention fully into the moment. I wasn’t a therapist mentally preparing for the day; I wasn’t an impatient driver waiting for the light to change.  I was just “being”. And it felt pretty  good.

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Friday Food for Thought

Posted on January 18, 2013 | No Comments

by Linda Herman

So another athlete gets a national platform to admit to what he has been lying about for years. And what are we supposed to think about this “flawed character”? That’s how Lance Armstrong describes himself,as if having this flaw explains everything.

I see it another way.

Mr. Armstrong did get one word right: “character”.  And he is sorely lacking in this area. We don’t hear that word used in the context of morality or moral fiber much these days.  Our culture is loathe to judge others (unless you belong to certain unpopular groups).

Before Lance is let off the hook by forgiving fans, I want to add another label. He is a thief. He robbed others of the opportunity to win and to get the endorsements  that come with victory. He denies that he was a cheat, because, he says, it was a level playing field. So that somehow makes it okay if others were cheating as well?

I don’t use the word “shame” much. But it is appropriate here: Lance, you should be ashamed of yourself.  Are you capable of feeling this?

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Friday Food for Thought

Posted on January 11, 2013 | No Comments

This week we read about another school shooter, this time in Taft, California. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen reviews of the profiles of mass murderers: While no one description fits all, often these killers are disaffected teens and young adults who are angry and have had a series of disappointments. Many want to become notorious for their acts.

But have you noticed one factor this is consistently absent from the profiles?  Poverty.  Oh, these young people are impoverished alright. But not financially. They are sorely lacking in the areas of stability, empathy, and resiliency.

Life has its share of disappointments. Conveying that it will be otherwise is to create false expectations. Despite a frequent theme that shooters have been bullied, it is never a valid excuse for murder.

The recent tragedies can never be completely prevented. So what can you do? Keep it real with your families; pay attention to their lives; have a mix of work and play; get help when you or they need it.

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