parents to the end

Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II

Posted on November 27, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part II

Therapists know that the holiday season is emotionally loaded for many. They see the joyous commercials on TV, only to think that their own lives are far from perfect.  This is sure to lead to letdown, especially for those whose relationships with family are either strained or estranged.  To offer some realistic balance to media hype, I am revisiting my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children on Fridays through the end of the year.

In the first of a series of six blogs beginning last week, I wrote about two truths:  1. Love does not conquer all. 2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

Today I share two more truths:

3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.

When our children were young, we might say to them on occasion, “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.”   We all hoped that our kids got the message that we could unconditionally love them, and still have consequences for inappropriate behavior.  At times, parents have admitted to me actually not liking their child, when the behaviors or problems were very stressful.  Most of the time this is temporary.  All parents have looked forward to the day when  concerns are resolved and they can have an adult-to-adult relationship with a son or daughter.

When this happens it is a blessing, and we feel that the years of parenting have paid off. But not all young people follow that kind of path into adulthood.  Despite parents’ best efforts, some grown children, whether it be through personality clashing or troubling behaviors, are difficult to be around or to like. This may sound impossible to some of you, but it is not for parents whose adult children are abusive or engage in major social misconduct.

Do not rush to judge the parents who admit to disliking their (adult) child.  They want nothing more than to be able to love that child unconditionally. It may be in the parent’s  best interest, however, to pull back if their love is met with repeatedly abusive reactions, even if it is a holiday.

4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.

The holiday season is here and most of us take pains to treat our children equitably. We want to be fair, and that often that means spending equal amounts per child. Makes sense, right? But sometimes situations come up where that kind of decision isn’t as easily arrived at.

Just as our kids grow in understanding and insights in life, so do we.  A parent may decide she has overindulged her first child with “stuff” to the point that her young adult has an entitlement attitude. Along comes a younger brother who now wants the same goodies that his older sister received. What is the parent to do? Continue to spend unwisely on the sibling, or use her hard-won insight to stop doing what does not work?

What if your family’s circumstances have radically changed? Perhaps there has been a job loss or retirement that shrinks the family budget.  You may no longer have the resources to give as you have in the past.  Try to get past your guilt-if you are feeling bad—and recognize your limits.

Finally, there are children who, because of severe behaviors, have alienated their families.  Do you continue giving to them at the same level you give to others? Use your best judgment here. You surely  don’t want to send the message that they can behave terribly and you will overlook it forever.

It is easy to enjoy the holidays when the love and respect between family members or friends is reciprocal.  I hope that you have been able to spend Thanksgiving with those you appreciate, and who appreciate you as well.

2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II”

  1. Troubled in San Diego says:

    I stumbled across your blog tonight after an internet search of verbally abusive adult children. Our son lives with us as he suffers from severe anxiety, depression, and has bouts with suicidal ideation. He has lived out on his own (only with our help) a few times, always failing. I know he loves us, but his narcissistic behavior results in frequent conflict. After today’s conflict, my husband left the house, and says that at 59 years old this is not how he wants to live, and definitely not in retirement. Your blog is what I needed to read tonight. I am feeling so terribly guilty about telling him that he cannot continue to live with us. He could qualify for permanent disability, but that takes years to process! We almost lost him in April, and after begging and coaxing him out of bed, we finally got him back. Each time I think it’s going to change and be different, but it never does. It’s Christmastime, and here I am faced with all of this. I love my son to death, but so much of the time, I really don’t like who he is. I am so sad, but writing to you, a stranger, tonight has felt somewhat comforting. I’ll check your blog again. Thank you.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations

Posted on November 21, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC “Great Expectations” Those words spring to mind as we enter the holiday season. Our expectations of ourselves and others may be too high or too low. Are you trying to be the perfect wife, parent, or child to your own parents? Do you think part of your job is to keep everyone happy in the family?

These are common expectations many of us have for ourselves or our loved ones. As we look at the covers of magazines at this time of year,  we see themes like, “Have the best Christmas ever!” “Deck your  halls for holiday joy!”  “Holiday recipes to WOW your loved ones!” “Wow” is right. Media invitations beckon us to celebrate and provide tips for doing so.

While inspiring to some readers, these cover stories are burdensome for others. Therapists know that this time of year is emotionally loaded. I see evidence of that in my practice annually. It is most challenging for parents whose children (or perhaps their elderly parents) are estranged from them. I thought it a good time to review the Twelve Truths  for Parents of Adult Children as I presented them in Parents to the End. There are 6 Fridays left in 2014, including today.  I will summarize two “Truths” per Friday for the next six weeks, as a gentle reminder that may help give a realistic balance to what the media gives us.

  1. Love does not conquer all.

Surely we have all heard the time-honored phrase “Love conquers all.”  When someone says it, we tend to think of kind acts, understanding, empathy,  gentle compassion. We equate loving behavior with kindness; we hope that by behaving in loving ways, hurts will be erased, resentments will fade, and mutual affection be restored. Oh, if only that were always true.


There are situations where parents are confronted with extremely angry adult children. These parents often fear contact over the holidays due to the unpredictability of their offspring. Parents may want to love their child, but be met with an onslaught of rejecting verbage.  A pattern may already have been established where the parents continue to offer “unconditional” acceptance regardless of the treatment they have received. They are still waiting for their love to conquer the hostility, but that is not happening.

As I state in my book, “…some children have profound psychological issues that prevent them from acknowledging or accepting love. If loving your child is tearing you apart or destroying your relationships with others, then  your notion of loving needs care re-examination. One-sided love, love that is rejected, discarded, or thrown back into a parent’s face is not healthy,. A more helpful form of loving may be to back off from helping or enabling your child, while allowing her to experience the consequences of her behavior. This gives her an opportunity to change and preserves your resources, be they emotional, physical or material.”

  1. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

This “truth” dovetails #1 above.  Do you ever question the amount of “giving” that you do for others? Giving is not just material; we give gifts of time, attention, forgiveness, and various forms of assistance. We know that our giving is balanced when we have no resentment building up and we do not feel taken for granted.  We know that our style of giving is appreciated when the person on the receiving end does not end up angry or demanding with us.  There is a fine line, which when crossed, changes the perception of the “gift” to either the giver or the recipient. (Too much giving on the part of parents can actually make children feel uncomfortable or manipulated.)

In healthy giving, neither the giver nor recipient feels “injured”.  Parents of our generation have been able to do so much more materially than most of our own parents were able to do for us. Consequently, it has been more difficult for many baby boomers to stop “giving”, especially in the area of cash infusions. The data is pretty clear, and I recently addressed this in one of my blogs. For those grown children who get significant material help and do little for their parents, their expectation of continuing to get money after the parents’ death is high.  The adult children who have actually done more for the parents, have lower expectations (i.e. feelings of entitlement). Isn’t that interesting! Examine your own style of doing and giving. If you want love and respect, do not overdue the “giving” It can be a recipe for discomfort at the least, and downright resentment at the worst.

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Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami

Posted on November 7, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC


 Camping at the southernmost tip of the peninsula that is Ocean Shores, WA, this weekend, I commented to my husband that I was glad there was no tsunami. But when we picked up The News Tribune at breakfast, I learned that I am part of a tsunami, the Silver Tsunami.


Not new, but new to me is this term “Silver Tsunami.” It refers to the aging workforce in the US. Not since the enactment of the Social Security Act in 1935, have so many older workers (age 55 +) been in the workplace.  But as Bill Virgin, (editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News) notes in his Tribune piece, baby boomers are an aging group that will be vacating a huge number of positions in the next few years.  This means more job openings and more Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) in those jobs. In fact, he says, one estimate has Millennials occupying 50% of available jobs by 2020.

Are we ready to move over and let the younger generations take their (our) rightful places in the job market?

I researched characteristics of both Gen X and the Millennials (Gen Y) for prior blogs. Here are a few traits I’ve previously discussed:


  • Millennials have their own work ethic, distinct from both ours and the Generation X-ers. Bruce Mayhew of Bruce Mayhew consulting has described Gen X-ers(born between 1965 and 1980) as ambitious, hardworking and valuing a work/play balance.  He has said they thrive on challenges, responsibility and diversity. Gen X-ers grew up with busy baby boomer parents, spent more time alone and with siblings, and became independent and self-reliant. They like to be coached, not lectured and work well on their own.


  • Mayhew distinguishes the  Gen X-ers from Gen Y (the Millennials). The Millennials grew up with more hands-on parents (i.e. the “helicopter parents”) who hovered over their fully loaded schedule of activities. They are used to variety, challenge and having their views heard. They were more likely to be raised to feel special and want an “open door” policy at work, where they can give and receive feedback. They love the constantly changing technology and are on the lookout for more efficient ways of getting jobs done. Having been used to getting much reinforcement growing up, they expect that on the job as well.


  • Millennials, like Gen X, expect a work/life balance better than what their parents had. Their concept of time, loyalty and success is different, according to Cam Marston of Generational Insights. Having witnessed the Great Recession, they don’t expect longevity at a job. They’ve also seen more instability at home in terms of family (e.g. multiple marriages), which likely impacts their world view.   They may not be as self-directed as Gen X-ers or we boomers; hence they may not look for what needs to be done next.


While I have seen baby boomers bemoan the way Millennials work, I have also seen these same boomers burn out from lack of good boundaries in their work/home lives. Maybe the younger generation has a thing or two to teach us!

We boomers may be part of the Silver Tsunami.  But another tsunami, this one composed of Millennials, is headed our way.  Let’s be ready to step aside, and even, perhaps, embrace it.


2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami”

  1. angi says:

    Thank you for your healthy and balanced insight on the differences of each generation. We have a lot we could learn from each other. My parents are Boomers and my young adult children are Millenials. It’s a complex position indeed.

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Friday Food for Thought: Another School Shooting…Why?

Posted on October 24, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Another school shooting…why?


The details of today’s shootings here in Washington state are still coming out, as are the theories about the reasons for the violence. The gun control advocates and the anti-bullying movement can both advance their positions by reference to this tragedy. But there is another take on it that I’d like you to consider.

What has been a frequent theme when these kinds of incidents are dissected is that the perpetrators have felt injured emotionally. They have been “victims” themselves- of bullying and rejection, we are told.

Indeed, I cannot disagree. But then, most young people growing up can cite times when they themselves have been the targets of some kind of hurt.   What is common among those acting out violently is an inability to tolerate distress.  The young person responds to the stressor in his life by lashing out at others and sometimes himself as well.

One of the major tasks in human development is learning to manage our emotions. Someone can be the best and the brightest, a talented athlete and even a homecoming prince, and yet not be able to tolerate his own upset at being bullied and rejected.  This may be the answer to the “why” of what happened today.

My mother had a saying I grew sick of hearing as I was growing up: “ This, too, shall pass.”  But today’s shooter obviously didn’t believe that.  I didn’t believe the saying either when, as a teen, I was trying to get over a broken heart. But between what my mother said, the support of my friends, and a sense of belonging in my family, I somehow muddled through.

Things aren’t the same today.

  • Kids and teens are often more connected to their phones and facebook than to immediate family.  There is more opportunity to catch others, or be caught in unflattering situations, and more opportunity for exploitation.
  •  There is an expectation among many that the normal state should be happiness; less than that means there is a problem that someone else should correct.
  •  We live in a society that does more blaming than perhaps at any other time in our history. Politicians have contributed to an “us versus them” mentality, in which one group is pitted against another. It is easy to feel alienated, and easy to feel that one is a victim of someone else or another group.
  •  We have so elevated the “art” of feeling offended that people are afraid to be honest with each other, as if offending someone is a crime itself.  We see people in the news frequently who have innocently offended others while being truthful in their opinions, only to have to apologize repeatedly for the transgression of honesty.

The above kind of thinking lessens our ability to handle distress that life delivers to us all.

So what can we do?

  • Find out how schools are helping children with distress tolerance, if they are at all.
  • Curtail the talk and thinking that leads our young people to feel like victims. Discourage thinking that divides individuals and groups.
  • Don’t ignore upset feelings, but let our young people know that this is a normal part of growing up. Let them know we can get through very difficult situations. Talk about various coping strategies. (We can wade through upset and grief, but we cannot go around it.)
  • Find ways to stay connected with those you care about.
  • Be someone who empowers your young people, who conveys faith in their ability to survive and thrive.


Finally, hold the deceased and injured from today’s shootings in your thoughts and prayers.







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Friday Food for Thought: To Leave or Not to Leave (an Inheritance)

Posted on October 10, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda M. Herman, LMHC

This is a question many baby boomers are considering for the first time.

For those who are just squeaking by, the choice is easily made.  If the money and assets run out, then the kids are on their own. But many boomers are just entering retirement or thinking about it. At this point, they do have assets and are rightfully thoughtful about how best to utilize these.

New York Times columnist and author Ron Lieber looks at this question head on in his 9/20/14 article “Parents, the Children Will Be Fine. Spend Their Inheritance Now.”…/parents-the-childrenwill-be-fin

He says that although the great majority of retirees want to leave something to their children, many of these same children have no such expectations of their parents. Lieber cites research  by Kyungmin Kim, Ph.D. and her colleagues published in The Gerontologist last year. They found that despite the fact that 82% of parents ages 59 – 96 wanted leave an inheritance for their children, only 44.6 % of children ages 40 – 60 expected to get one.

But interestingly, there are some “small print” details worth noting for us baby boomers. The adult children who provide more support have fewer expectations that their parents will leave them something.  But adult children who have been getting money from their parents have higher expectations that they will continue receiving money even after their parents are dead.  What is the message here? That providing a stream of money to your grown kids is not empowering, but rather the opposite. It increases the feelings of entitlement!

This is a theme I have echoed in Parents to the End and in my blogs, so it comes as no surprise to me. While productive adult children may not expect an inheritance, it is natural, of course that they might want –and enjoy—one.

Considering the economic woes our country has faced for a number of years, parents do worry about whether or not their children will have to sustain a lower standard of living. This puts more pressure on the parents to try to have something to pass on.

Lieber says that parents and their adult children should discuss these issues. His own take is that parents should tend to their own needs and enjoyment first. If there is something left for their offspring, fine. He recommends that parents use their money now to create “meaningful memories with family” or to insure that they (themselves) have excellent care as they move through the aging process.

These may be uneasy conversations to have, but could be well worth the time. And about that grown child  who continues to hit you up for money?  Unless you just say “no”, the requests will never stop.

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Friday Food for Thought: It All Goes Back to “Character”

Posted on September 26, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

I get the outrage over the recently publicized violence of Ray Rice toward his wife.  But let’s go beyond decrying the NFL and demanding more programs to teach men how to behave.  What about the influences in young men’s lives before  they get to adulthood? Are we saying that the only way males will learn to treat females is with private or public “programs?”

What a pity to ignore guys’ upbringings and the years of opportunity for creating healthy individuals. And let’s not put this all on the guys. The women’s movement of the 60’s/70’s focused on empowering women. At the time, women being treated as sex objects was extremely frowned upon. Yet, dress for young women has never been more sexually provocative. Women give and receive mixes signals from the guys in their lives.  It may never have been a more challenging time in which to grow up.

Abusive behavior NEVER is okay, whether one is a celebrity or not. We’ve got it right alerting children to bullying behavior.  What about also alerting our children to the traits that make for its opposite:  a “decent” person?

Here are some thoughts for parents and grandparents:

  • Teach your daughters/granddaughters about “screening” the guys who enter their lives.

Does he work or go to school? Does he have any history (to your knowledge) of crude or aggressive behavior?  Is he into music that degrades women?  Does he have a substance abuse problem? Is he more interested in knowing them sexually than getting to know anything else about them?  These are all questions worth answering before getting too involved with someone. Encourage conversation about these areas.

Women forget that they decide whom to date and with whom to go to bed.  If young women give themselves away too easily, it does not encourage respect on the male’s part. The opposite is more likely to occur.  The female sends messages to the males in her behavior and dress. Let they be ones that say she is not an “easy” target.

  • Teach your sons/grandsons about how to treat females.

How is it that guys learn to treat girls and women? Teaching sons basic courtesies like holding a door open for a woman (probably archaic for some,) or staying on the street side when walking with a girl may sound small, but convey a larger message of caring and respect.

You are always modeling your values. Conduct yourself like a parent, not a pal. Correct your sons and daughters when they need it.  Challenge the MTV version of sexuality.  Your children/grandchildren may accuse you of being out of step with the times, but they won’t get the message of restraint and respect from TV or their friends.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about character.  In our fear of sounding judgmental, we  avoid  speaking about  this, yet we all grew up knowing the difference between good and poor character. Today we are more likely to use psychological labels than label a behavior as “bad.”

These topics are of great interest to me. I especially pay attention to the character of those in positions of influence over others. What are they modeling?

At the local school level, how are our schools approaching character development?


I will be researching the latter and writing more about this topic in a future blog.

Enjoy your weekend.






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Friday Food for Thought: Parents’ Greatest Fears

Posted on September 12, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman An acquaintance asked me recently if she should be financially supporting her adult son. I had to get a few questions answered before I could answer her question. Things like:

  • Has he been working? If not, what are the circumstances?
  • Is he living independently now?
  • What is his general level of functioning
  • What is your greatest fear if you stop helping him?

While all of the questions are important, the last one is the most critical. Parents with an adult child they deem at risk are terrified of what will happen if they stop healping. Here are their most common fears:

  • He will be homeless, sleeping in his car or under a bridge somewhere.
  • He will sink deeper into depression or drug use.
  • He will commit suicide.

With those kinds of fears, most mothers just cannot NOT give financial support, either by providing that child a place to stay or the funds to live elsewhere. I totally understand their love and their fears for him/her. And, that is precisely why I NEVER tell a parent in therapy to just put their her child out of the home.  I do not want a parent coming back to tell me that she followed my recommendation and her child overdosed.

But I can and do talk about related topics. For one thing, I have seen hundreds of situations over my years as a therapist. It is rare that a  young adult who is “stuck” emotionally or due to drugs suddenly wakes up one day and embraces a new attitude and lifestyle. Despite their complaints to the contrary, many stuck young adults become rather comfortable with a predictable life of little responsibility. The world consequently looks intimidating and the young person increasingly believes that there is not a place for him in it. He becomes even more alienated, thus perpetuating his lack of growth.

There are consequences for his actions and for those of the parents. Working and productive siblings become resentful of a brother or sister of whom nothing is expected. They feel bad for their parents, and furious with them as well.  Relationships between parents become strained if the parents are not in agreement with how things are being handled at home.

Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Sometimes, and often with difficulty, parents find success in gradually increasing the expectations of their child or decreasing the “help” that they provide.   This can look like cutting off money for gas, cigarettes, or phones. It may mean no access to a vehicle unless the young person is out job-hunting or  as a means for getting to work.

If a parent thinks her daughter needs drug treatment, then she may offer to drive her to the treatment center and/or give contact information to her.  Some parents make entering or completing treatment a condition for letting their young person stay home. Parents have to have a bottom line and the child needs to know what that bottom line is. It is human nature to push parents to the limit, especially when a child has been successfully manipulating Mom or Dad. There is no change without discomfort all concerned.

If a parent is going to insist that a child leave, I recommend that resources be presented to him/her, e.g.   agencies, shelters, phone numbers of other friends or family members who may temporarily offer housing. Regardless of what parents do, some endings are tragic. Mom or Dad get the call they have dreaded− that their child is gone.

Parents have no way of accurately predicting the outcome for their son or daughter if they increase their expectations of him/her. But I am pretty sure of the outcome if the situation is allowed to continue as is:  Nothing…no change, no growth, just an increasingly disillusioned young person with little confidence to meet the challenges of adult life. These are not easy decisions.

Take your time; reflect; don’t let anyone decide for you.

2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Parents’ Greatest Fears”

  1. Ginny says:

    I was one of these parents who lived in fear of doing and saying the right thing to my son who was severely depressed I watched him fall further and further for several years and then one day I knew the only way to give him the chance to save himself was to give him an ultimatum to seek help or leave. He did nothing and I had to order him out. I never I dreamt it would be six years before he spoke to me again. I lived those six years doubting myself every day then I would hear from someone that he was alive and well or even better working. I would breathe a sigh of relief. The guilt was very heavy to live with. Many well intended friends reminded that they would not have done what I did. I had to believe in my son. He has returned a changed man, a lovely man. I am not saying that this would work for every one in this situation. I guess people have to ask themselves what are they able to decide to do that they can live with and know and trust that is the right decision. There are many roads to what works for each of us. No one fits all I was blessed this worked for me and he came home. He still has demons to deal with but he is better at dealing with them now. I wish all your readers who are in this situation all the very best. They need to look after themselves as it is the hardest thing a parent has to do, second only to burying s child.

    • LInda Herman says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful contribution. It must have been awful at times during the six years, not knowing what the outcome would be. Congratulations for sticking with a course of action that was right for you. I am happy that your son is doing well.

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Friday Food for Thought: When Parents Should Butt Out

Posted on August 29, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman


Amy Dickinson, whose column “Ask Amy” appears in the Seattle Times, frequently hits the nail on the head when it comes to issues regarding adult children. On August  18, she focused on the parents of an adult child, particularly the mother.

The letter writer in this situation was the father, who was presumably caught between his daughter and his wife.  Here is the dilemma:  The daughter, age 24 and a college graduate, is in love with a young man. The young man is starting graduate school and plans to teach while working at fulfilling his dream of being a successful writer.  He is in love with their daughter and wants to marry her.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Ah, but for the mother it is. She has already labeled her potential son-in-law as “lazy, directionless, and not good enough for her only daughter.” Wow. The dad is working on both sides- trying to get the mother to be accepting, and coaching the young couple on “proving” his wife wrong.

I know parents who would give anything to have such a young man join their family: no drugs, loves and is willing to marry their daughter, motivated to work, study, and has a passion. I see nothing wrong with this picture, at least not for the young couple. Amy pointedly says that “the only one needing an attitude adjustment” is the wife. She advises the father to back out of the middle and to set his wife straight –‘If you can’t learn to tolerate him and they do get married, then you are going to be very lonely.’

Just so we don’t forget: Our children have to follow their dreams for them, not our dreams for them. Do we want to have a relationship with our adult children, or do we want to alienate them?

Let’s have and convey faith that they can make smart choices. If they don’t, we can be supportive and be a resource if they want us in that role. Our children are more likely to use good judgment if they are not sidetracked with resisting pressure from us. It is the natural way of things.

The urge to differentiate oneself from one’s parents is often stronger than common sense. If a young person has to prove her parents wrong, she may set aside her best judgment while pushing them away.  I have had both young men and young women tell me of actions taken (just to resist parental pressure,) that they knew were not in their own best interest.

Don’t put your adult children in that position. Be supportive of adult choices that clearly present no danger to anyone. They may just be right.

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Friday Food for Thought: It’s Your Job to be Real, Not Nice

Posted on August 16, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman

Note:  This is my 100th post !!


It’s Your Job to be Real, Not Nice.

What? This isn’t what I learned growing up. I thought being a daughter, wife, and mother meant being a nice person.  Doesn’t it?

For most people, being nice comes easily. For women especially, we value confluence i.e. getting along, coming together. Conflict makes us uneasy. Consequently, we may go to great pains to avoid disagreement.

I want to be treated pleasantly when I go about my daily activities, whether it be working, shopping, doctor’s appointments, visits with family or friends.  The truth is, however, that being nice has its place and its limits.  Relationships cannot maintain without some conflict and the means for resolution. Just being nice won’t get people through the rough patches in a marriage, friendship or in parenting. Using an easy example, parents who are too nice with their children may fail to give their kids the boundaries that will provide security and lessons about life. We can’t always be our children’s friends. We have to deliver messages that they don’t want to hear.

We are “real” with our children when we when set appropriate limits, give them feedback (positive and negative), allow them to experience natural consequences, and hold them accountable. When they don’t like what parents have to say, young children often accuse them of being “mean.” We come to expect some of this in parenting, so, as I said above, this is a relatively “easy” example of being real.

In our relationships with adult children, spouses, partners, or friends, being genuine can be more difficult. We can, however, be authentic without being aggressive, real without being destructive. In fact, to maintain positive connections, finding ways to communicate our deep feelings in a nondestructive way is essential.

Here are a few thoughts about being authentic in your relationships:

  • When you have trepidation about communicating something of importance, think of your goal. Are you wanting to build up or tear down, to be closer or more distant? Most of us would say we want to build up and be closer, but our actions don’t always take us in that direction. We need to behave with a constructive approach.
  • People worry that they will hurt the person with whom they have an issue. Make sure that you give a complete message to that person. For example, you may want to give some negative feedback to a friend at work, but you don’t want her to feel that you don’t like or appreciate her.   A “complete” message could include noting how much you enjoy working with her, and that you don’t want to damage your friendship , but that you do have something of concern to talk about. Then share what is of concern to you.

Toastmasters International gives people excellent skills in evaluating others’ speeches. They begin the evaluation with what they liked, make their constructive comments, and end evaluations on a positive note.

  • Be a good listener.  Listening is a huge part of effective communication. Make sure that you acknowledge the other persons’ position or feelings. That does not mean that you must agree with him.  In my office, the main complaint I hear in couple’s therapy is that one or both does not feel heard or understood by the other. Good listening means listening without jumping right in to defend yourself. It means listening without judging the other’s perceptions, beliefs, and feelings.

There is always some risk involved when we are candid with others, but that candor, delivered carefully, can deepen both conversation and connection. Give it a try.

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Friday Food for Thought: Peanut Butter Sandwiches-Unfit for Today’s Kids?

Posted on August 1, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

How many of you remember what you had for summer lunches at home when you were in grade school, or high school for that matter? I know we ate plenty of bologna sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, and leftover ham in ham sandwiches. If my mother was home, she’d have us eat celery, a carrot, or an apple. Then we’d chase it down with a glass of milk. If there were cookies in the house, we’d have one or two of those.

Nothing fancy, but it worked and we grew up okay. My mother, a high school graduate, knew that feeding her children was an essential part of her “job”. If she wasn’t at home, she made sure there were some basics in the cupboard.

But the lunchtime landscape has changed. At various sites in communities around the country, anyone 18 and younger can show up and get a nutritious midday meal for free through the USDA Summer Food Programs.  “Kids” can’t take the food home. The overseers of the programs want to make sure that the children are getting the food. And of course, parents are not eligible for these lunches.

The reasoning behind these programs is simple: Help the children stay nutritionally safe while school is out.

But the ramifications of these programs are complex.

As a therapist, I am tuned in to underlying messages in our actions as individuals and as a nation. So it was with interest and care that I considered some of the messages within a seemingly well-intended program.

  • What strikes me first is the idea that parents cannot figure out how to put a simple, but nutritious lunch on the table for their children. Is the takeaway here that we have so little faith in our nation’s mothers and fathers that the government has to see that kids eat properly?  If that is the case, then we are in trouble.
  • Whose job is it to be absolutely sure that their children eat? If we assume that indeed parents are bright enough to know how to put a meal together, then why wouldn’t loving parents do their absolute best to make that happen? Is there an underlying message that today’s parents don’t care? Since the programs are designed for less affluent people, do we conclude that they care less for their kids than do more affluent parents? If that is the conclusion, I’d say that’s a pretty negative stereotype of the nation’s less economically fortunate.


Not only are there underlying messages being conveyed, but there are unintended consequences as well.

  • First, feeding one’s children is a basic parental function of humans and across species. Having the government step in and take on that role robs parents of the opportunity to be responsible in this area for their kids. It makes it easier for parents to disconnect and just send the kids off to eat elsewhere and assume that someone else needs to make the meal happen.
  • As I hope I am conveying frequently in my blogs, doing more and more for people never leads to greater independence and empowerment. Rather the opposite occurs.

Not only does increasing “help” of this kind undermine family function, it creates more                         dependence, in this case on the government.

  • Who would be willing to be the “bad guy” to stop such programs if the government ran out of money?  Have you ever started saying “no” to someone who is used to getting something?   My guess is that these lunches are here to stay.

Lest you see me as heartless, let me make a few closing comments. I have great faith in people to do the right thing when called upon to do so, and that includes taking care of their families. If indeed, people have neither the means nor the mindset to make a healthy lunch, then perhaps the moneys for the program would be better spent in inviting parents in to learn food preparation tips and giving them ingredients to take home and do it themselves.

Even if it is not on the approved list of nutritious meals, having a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich on occasion might work just fine.








2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Peanut Butter Sandwiches-Unfit for Today’s Kids?”

  1. Teresa Heald LMSW says:

    Linda, I appreciate you bringing up this topic. I acknowledge your points, and I invite you to consider a real issue that children in our country face: food insecurity. Twenty two percent of children in the United States live in households that are food insecure (1). Yes, parents have a responsibility to provide for their children, but a large percentage of parents in our country struggle to provide the basics, even peanut butter sandwiches. While this summer food program may seem to enable parents to surrender their responsibilities, please consider that it ensures at least one meal per day for those for 22 percent of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens: children.

    As we confront the core issues surrounding poverty and work towards its eradication, the imperfect programs we currently have in place provide some relief for hungry kids who are not to blame for their family’s lack of financial resources.


    Teresa Heald LMSW


    • LInda Herman says:

      Hi Teresa,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and emphasis on the real need that is out there. I am not opposed to giving help to those who need it. There may be better ways to deliver the help that might actually empower the parent(s), especially if they have been unemployed or underemployed, and make them a more direct part of the process.

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