KSL’s Brooke Walker asked me to weigh in on the recent proposal from the Institute for American Values suggesting to lawmakers a mandatory divorce waiting period. In my clinical work with couples I’ve found that couples often seriously consider or file for divorce because they have lost hope of reconnecting with their spouse and think that they’ve exhausted all resources. I frequently suggest slowing down the divorce process by reminding couples, “You can get divorced next month, in 3 months, or in a year. What’s the rush?”
Luckily, marriage counselors have more tools than ever before to help couples understand the root of their emotional disconnection and to repair relationships, if they are willing. Dr. Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the model we use here at Wasatch Family Therapy, has had tremendous success repairing severely distressed relationships.
Learn more about this proposed wait period and here a few of my thoughts on the topic…
Pregnancy is a time of change, and living in a culture obsessed with appearance and thinness, many women struggle with fears surrounding body changes that accompany pregnancy. I recently interviewed with Parents.com to share my thoughts on this topic…
“Women need to develop a willingness to view bodily changes as part of the journey of motherhood, instead of something to be feared,” says Julie Hanks, a psychotherapist, and owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. “It’s crucial to have a healthy view of your body during and after pregnancy.”
Emotional family history is the emotional and relational patterns inherited and/or learned from your parents and grandparents, which may have been passed down to you. It includes:
1. nature: predisposition to certain emotional & mental health problems or traits (i.e. depression, anxiety, addictions)
2. nurture: learned patterns of how to manage emotions in relationships (i.e. “It’s not ok to be angry” or “When there is conflict it’s best to leave the situation”).
WHY is emotional family history important?
Just like physical health history, country of birth, or personal history of ancestors, we can learn valuable information about ourselves by looking at the emotional patterns we have inherited or learned from our families. The awareness of positive as well as negative traits and patterns that have been passed down to us allows us to understand ourselves better, to be more aware of our emotional vulnerabilities, and to take responsibility for our emotional lives. Like puzzle pieces, the more pieces you have in place, the more clearly you can see the picture of where you came from emotionally. Frequently, clients will fear that doing emotional family history is somehow “not honoring” their parents and grandparents, but in my own experience I have found that the more emotional puzzle pieces I have about my parents and grandparents, the more I am able to empathize with their struggles and honor their lives.
HOW & WHERE do you find emotional family history information?
F – Feedback from “Outsiders”
“Outsiders” are anyone who did not grow up in your family. Spouse’s, in-laws’, friend’s, neighbor’s observations about the idiosyncrasies of your family are worth considering. As you grow up in your family, it’s easy to think that your family’s way of managing emotions is the norm because it’s all that you know. Some examples of observations are “Why does your family seem to yell at each other over every little thing?” or “Your family seems to handle conflict really well. I really like how everyone can have differing opinions and it’s O.K.” or “Why don’t you or your siblings, tell your dad how you feel about the way he talks to your mom?”
A – Ask Hard Questions
Be willing to ask the hard questions and get more curious about family relationship patterns. “Why did Grandma and Grandpa divorce in their 70’s? ” or “When did Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty stop talking to each other?” “How did Grandpa manage to remain so kind and loving even after he returned from the war?” Notice positive and difficult trends among family members. Are there family members who’ve exhibited incredible capacity for forgiveness, or tolerance of differences, or emotional resilience after traumatic experiences? Are there signs of unresolved trauma, addictions, abuse, divorces, infidelity, suicide or other problems that many families don’t openly talk about?
M – Mental Health Histories
Just as health histories are important source of information for you, mental health history of your family can also empower you to be educated, to know what symptoms to watch for, and to get help if those symptoms arise in your own life, and in the lives of your children. Mental health history allows you to be proactive and take preventative measures. Is there a history of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse? Here’s an example of how mental health history is important. A new mom struggles to understand why she feels hopeless and worthless and has feelings of wanting to abandon her baby. Her mother discloses AFTER her daughter is diagnosed with postpartum depression, that she, too, suffered from postpartum depression after 3 out of her 4 deliveries. Had she shared that information with her daughter prior to her daughter’s diagnosis, they could have been more proactive in education and treatment.
I – Identify Emotional Rules
Each family has a unique way of being, managing emotions, and getting our emotional needs met. While some of these rules are explicit (i.e. “Men are always right”, “We don’t talk about feelings”, “We wear our feelings on our sleeve”, “Never admit that you’re wrong”, “It’s ok to cry when you’re physically hurt, but not emotionally hurt”), many are implicit and we follow the rules without conscious awareness. Ask yourself, “What messages did I receive about happiness, sadness, anger, fear?” and “How did my parents manage each of these emotions in themselves?” “How did my family respond when I have expressed each of these emotions?” If you were raised with parents who were sensitive to your emotions and needs, then you will likely have healthier emotional rules to live by.
L – Life Scripts
Similar to a movie script, we learn who our “character” is (the smart one, or the pretty one, or the lazy one) and how to respond in certain relational situations (i.e. when someone says you did a great job on a project at work, you are supposed to point out all of the flaws in your presentation and discount the compliment). We also live by scripts regarding our physical body, money, intelligence, worth, future, gender role, intimate relationships, sexuality, and family life. Just like emotional rules, many of the scripts you live by are implicit and never stated directly. For example, if your parents never discuss sex with you, you may be living by a script that sex is bad or wrong.
Y – Your Own Experiences
Examine and reflect on your own experiences in your family – the positive and the painful. Take the emotional family history information you receive from others and check it against your own experience in your family. Ask yourself, “Does this fit with my experiences?” The beauty of becoming aware of your emotional history is now you are free to sift through the information, keep the positive emotional patterns, and be proactive in changing the patterns that you don’t want to pass on to your family. Knowledge allows you to take responsibility for your current and future emotional life. Example: if your family has anger management issues and you find yourself screaming at your family, take anger management classes.
In his new book “The Sibling Effect”, Jeffrey Kluger says that whether they want to admit it or not, every parent has a favorite child. I think he’s right. A parent may naturally “click” with one child over another or may find one child easier to understand. What’s important is that parents to do what they can to work against playing favorites by celebrating each child’s strengths, seeking support and feedback from spouse or other adults to manage the internal struggle, and to refrain from comparing your children to each other.
I was recently asked to comment on favoritism in families on KSL TV news. Here’s the interview!
Did your parents have a “favorite” child? Do you secretly enjoy one of your own children over the others? Feel free to comment below or join in the conversation about playing favorites on my Facebook page!
5 Questions To Ask Before Rescuing Your Child From Natural Consequences
The only source of knowledge is experience. – Einstein
Being a “good parent” usually means being involved in your child’s life and “doing” things for your child, like volunteering in school, attending their sporting events, and teaching them values and skills. Allowing your child to experience natural consequences is painful for parents because they require us to do less or to not do something which might leave you feeling like a “bad” parent. You may want to rescue your child from natural consequences to prevent your child from feeling pain, to keep your child happy, or to make your child like you. Or you may intervene in natural consequences to ease your own pain. It’s hard to see your child struggle with difficult emotions like disappointment, failure, loneliness.
If our job as parents isn’t to keep our kids happy, what is our job? It’s to do what we can to raise responsible children who grow up and contribute something positive to society, and to encourage self-awareness and sensitivity to others so they can grow up to create fulfilling adult relationships and healthy families.
1) Is my child in immediate danger?
If “no” then let natural consequences play out. If “yes” then intervene and use other ways of teaching. Examples of immediate danger are a toddler running into street, teen driving drunk, tween chatting with a stranger online. Generally, these situations are the exception in everyday parenting. It’s the small situations that are sometimes the trickiest to work through, like a child forgetting lunch, fighting with friends, breaking a household rule, because they don’t seem like a big deal individually, but they add up over time.
2) Whose problem is this?
Who owns the problem? If you “pick up” the problem and hold on to it, your child will let you and allow you to be in charge of their problem. Notice the language you use when talking to your child about their struggles. I hear a lot of moms say, “We’ve got a lot of homework tonight.” That’s a sign that mom is owning the homework, instead of the child. I like to tell my 9 yr old, “I already passed 3rd grade. This is your homework and I’m here to help and support you.” Your language can give clues to who owns the problem/issue.
Author Byron Katie says there are 3 kinds of “business” in life:
a) your business
b) other people’s business (including your child’s)
c) God’s business
We are usually in pain when we get into other people’s or God’s “business”.
I am currently in the difficult process of letting my seventeen year old own and experience the consequences of a big mistake. We have an old car that she was able to drive. She drove it for weeks without oil, after several reminders from her dad, and the car was damaged beyond repair. She is now paying us back a couple thousand dollars for the car she totaled. It is her problem.
3) What is the most loving thing to do?
Doing the “loving” thing isn’t the same as being nice or choosing a path that results in the least amount of relational conflict. The loving thing may at first seem to be rescuing, but being loving is actually doing what’s in your child’s best interest.
I’ve seen parents, in an attempt to be “nice” and unconditionally loving enable their child to continue to break the law, to take advantage of others, and to develop a sense of entitlement. In extreme cases, I’ve known a few parents who, in the name of love, enabled an adult child to an early death from addiction by not allowing them to hit rock bottom and continually bailing them out.
4) What will my child learn if I rescue him/her?
By rescuing your child from natural consequences you may be inadvertently teaching your child not to trust their own judgement, that they are not capable of handling hard things, and that they will always need you to help them. I recently met with a mother of an adult child who was angry at her son for taking advantage of her. She wanted him to get a job or work harder in school, yet she was allowing him to live at home without contributing to the household chores or paying rent. He had no incentive to step up. Her child had learned that his mom will take care of his basic needs even if he doesn’t contribute.
A Facebook friend Michelle Willis’ 5 year old stole a $15 book. Michelle held her daughter accountable to pay for the book by doing household chores. Her daughter, now 12, still has the book, and learned early in her life that you can’t get something for nothing.
5) How will this prepare my child for their future?
Each stage of development prepares a child for the next phase of life. Allowing your child to make age appropriate choices and experience natural consequences early on gives them experience to build on for future developmental stages in every area of life: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, physically.
Homework seems to be one of the most common parenting struggles. Here’s an example of how early experiences with natural consequences build preparation for the future. If your first grader forgets to do homework they may have to stay in at recess. In Junior High School if you forget to turn in a paper you’ll get a lower grade in the class. In High School forgetting to turn in papers means a lower grade in class and a lower GPA which limits future options, like college scholarships or work opportunities. Turning in papers in a time manner in High School or college prepares you for adult employment where forgetting to write report for board meeting will get you fired.
Another Facebook friend, Emily Bitner Hill, shares how she lets natural consequences teach her High School children who want to stay home because they aren’t feeling well. “They are quickly learning life is easier and less stressful if they go to school and stay on top of their work without me saying a word,” she says.
Wasatch Family Therapy is offering FREE therapy next week only!
WHY: Celebrate the opening of our Provo location
WHEN: Oct. 3-7, 2011
WHERE: Wasatch Family Therapy Provo
363 N University Ave, Suite 108A, Provo UT 84601Provo
HOW: Bring a canned food donation for Provo Community Action Food Bank and we’ll waive your therapy fee!
Can a playground be TOO safe and stifle kids imagination, or stunt development? Remember the tricky bars, carousel, really high slides, and gigantic monkey bars? A recent NY Times article on this topic suggests that eliminating all risk may not be in your child’s best interest. Watch what I have to say about it here…
Well, Iâ€™m 15 and Iâ€™m really sad because my brother always gets everything he goes and sees my dad and gets Â£30 or more of him every time he gets money for stuff as well everyday and when I go and see my dad all i get is a Â£5.Â My brother also got a xbox connect of my dad. I asked my dad for a xbox 360 and he said he has no money but he always gets my brother stuff and when my brother comes home he brags about it and Iâ€™m getting fed up of it. My birthday comes and all he gets me is a little ornament I donâ€™t want to seem ungrateful its just he treats my brother different to me he should treat us both the same but he donâ€™t. I think its favouritism.
A: I can see why you are so confused and sad about not being treated fairly by your father. Dads are the most important male figure in an adolescent daughterâ€™s life. Consider talking with your dad about your hurt. Start by expressing gratitude to your dad for what he has provided for you. Then, gently call his attention to perceived differences in the way he treats you and your brother. Be sure to use â€œIâ€ statements as much as possible and avoid using accusations like â€œyou alwaysâ€¦â€ and â€œyou neverâ€¦â€. An example of this is â€œDad, I feel sad when you give my brother more money than you give to me because Iâ€™m afraid it means Iâ€™m not as important to you.â€
Another issue here is the competitive relationship with your brother. I canâ€™t help but wonder whatâ€™s behind his bragging. It sounds like neither of you live with your dad, right? Do either of you have a fear of losing touch with your dad or of not being important to him? Is your brother exaggerating the gifts from dad so he feels more secure about dadâ€™s love for him? I have more questions than answers here so feel free to write back.
It sounds to me like the core issue behind the money and gifts is your hurt and fear about not being as valuable to your dad.Â The first place to start is sharing those feelings with your dad and asking for reassurance of his love.
Thank you so much for writing in and asking for help. Please let me know how the conversation goes.
Good parents sign their kids up for dance, sports, music, art, and language lessons, right? In a recent NewYorkTimes.com arti
cle Alina Tugend says, “…in an effort to give their children everything, some parents end up not just depleting financial resources, but also their own emotional energy.” Exposure to early opportunities, classes, sports, and lessons to gain skills doesn’t guarantee future success for your child,
and in some cases may be detrimental to your child and family. Here are some common myths that lead to overbooked kids, parenting truths and tips to help you to give your child what he or she really needs to succeed.
Need help finding clothes to fit your standards and her style? It’s just one of the challenges moms face when shopping with “Tweens” and teens. Here are my tips to help help you resolve your shopping struggles, before you hit the stores.
Pam: “I would like to ask how I can make my daughter understand the difference between a $100 pair of jeans and a $50 or $25 pair of jeans and how to make money go farther?”
Tip – Give your daughter the cash
Decide on a budget and stick to it. Be concrete about it by using cash so your daughter can actually see and feel the money. This is a great way to allow her to make difficult choices to be accountable for her clothing selections.
Shannon: “How do I tell my daughter that things she likes are too short or too tight for my taste?”
Pam: “In today’s society everything is cut so lowâ€¦how do I help her shop more modestly?”
Tip – Let your school dress code be the “bad guy”
My kid’s school district dress code says shorts and skirts must be mid-thigh or longer, no midriffs or underwear showing, no spaghetti straps or tank tops. Along with consulting the dress code, before going shopping discuss what styles are off-limits, how your family defines modesty, and what is considered age-appropriate.
3) What’s Appropriate?
Kristen: “My question isâ€¦my daughter, who is eleven and a middle schooler, wears sweat pants and yoga pants to school. I want her to wear appropriate, nice looking clothes for school and still be comfortable”.
Tip – Explore the question, “What do you want your clothes to say about you?”
Moms, this is a great opportunity to discuss how appearance isn’t everything, it isn’t the source of value, but it does send an initial message about who you are. Help your daughter explore what characteristics, values, and traits she wants to convey.
4) When Should Tweens/Teens Shop Alone?
Leah: “How do I tell my mom I’d rather shop alone, not with her all the time?
Tip – Ask directly for what you want without complaining
Instead of saying, “Why do you always want me to shop with you?” or “When are you going to let me shop alone?” try “Mom, I’d like to spend some time shopping alone this year. Would you be ok with that?”
5) Differing Taste and Values
Jayden: “How do I help my mom understand that name brand things are actually important to me?”
Sydney: “It’s hard to find something that we both agree on. How do I get my mom to buy me what I want?”
Tip – Use empathy to find the middle ground
Daughters – remember that your mom really does want what’s in your best interest and has more life experience than you do. Mothers – you can develop more empathy by reflecting on when you were a teen, and how certain details (brands, styles) were very important. From a place of empathy you can find that middle ground instead of getting into a power struggle.