Tag Archives: Parenting

The Truth about Santa

I have may have mentioned previously that I have a 9-year-old daughter. She is still a professed Santa-believer (though we have serious doubts she is really 100% on board vs. afraid of how things might change). My husband and I have had frequent talks about how to have “the talk” with her about Santa and when we should have that conversation. We have (maybe out of avoidance) opted to wait for her to come to us. We answer any question she may have, but are not seeking her out to burst her bubble. We’ve come close a couple of times. She has come to us in previous years and shared what a friend has told her about Santa. We’ve never “lied” exactly, but we have sugar-coated the truth, each year coming closer and closer to confessing.

The most recent conversation had to do with the Easter Bunny. We were sitting at Easter dinner at my husband’s restaurant (he had to work that year, so he wasn’t at the table – lucky Bastard to avoid this conversation). We’re eating dinner, having a wonderful afternoon. Imagine us, surrounded by families and enjoying a delicious meal when my 9-year-old looks up at me with her huge hazel eyes and asks, “It’s really you and Daddy who put out my Easter basket, right?” I nearly choked on my dinner! She’d be an amazing detective – totally blind-sided me and caught me unprepared. What does a psychologically-trained professional like me do? Once I could breathe again, I said, “Why don’t you ask your father.” Seriously? Why don’t you ask your father? I totally dropped the ball (and then punted it). As far as I know, she never asked him.

Well, this year we know we are living on borrowed time. She is 9, almost 10. She isn’t asking us, but is making end runs at other trusted adults in her life. Just two days ago, she was in a dance class with her most trusted dance teacher, the divine Miss Erin and slyly asked about Miss Erin’s Elf on the Shelf and whether she moves it for her kids or if the elf moves on its own. This amazing lady reiterated what we had always told her – something about Christmas magic – and Charlie moved on. So, I know it is coming. What am I going to do?

I have decided to be honest. There are letter suggestions out there (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/163959242659866164) and I love, love, love the sentiments of this letter and will include many of them when I finally have this conversation. I will not be writing her a letter (though this definitely appeals to my desire to avoid a potentially uncomfortable, awkward, sad conversation). It is important for me to tell her that Santa is about the spirit of Christmas and even though (spoiler alert) Moms and Dads tend to buy the Santa gifts, Santa is still about the magic of the season. I would stress the importance of allowing the spirit of Santa and Christmas to remain alive for others. (Unlike my older sister who blew the secret when I was only four – I still bear the scars of that psychological trauma). I will explain to her that, like Spiderman, with great knowledge comes great responsibility – she is responsible for allowing the joy to continue for other kids.

Now comes to million dollar question – when am I going to tell her? Well, I am defaulting to “the next time she asks”. I have a strong suspicion she already knows (or at least has a significant gut feeling), but I will allow her to address this as she is comfortable. I don’t feel it is my role to push her to believe or not believe any more. I am going to support her wherever she is and answer her questions as they are posed. The selfish part of me is hoping it isn’t for a couple more weeks – I would love to have one more Christmas with Santa intact.

Maybe it is a Little Bit You…

We’ve all heard those break-up stories – the couple sit there while one looks into the other’s eyes and explains they want to end the relationship. They try to let the other down easily and say those five little words, “It’s not you, it’s me.” What is this supposed to mean? It means the person ending the relationship is saying they aren’t able to be in the relationship despite the fact the person being dumped is fabulous and wonderful and a perfect person/partner. Do they actually mean this? Well, maybe/maybe not.

Look, harsh reality here – sometimes it really is you. Hearing this can spare you from having to hear these words again and again. I want you to pay attention to patterns even when they aren’t totally obvious. Do your relationships with boyfriends seem to end when you try to get too close too fast? This could be important information! Do you keep getting laid off from jobs as soon as they have an opportunity to downsize? Take notice! Are you struggling to connect in friendships and end up excluded with little to no explanation? Consider the role you may be playing in these relationships!

If you don’t notice these patterns, you are doomed to repeat them. Ooooh! Another saying is especially meaningful here – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). If someone tells you “It’s not you, it’s me” take a moment and think it through. Maybe, just maybe, it is a little bit you. This doesn’t have to be a painful reality – it is information you can build on to make your life even more amazing. Use it. Learn from it. Make changes as necessary and leave your ex in your dust.

Life Challenge: Showing Up

I was sitting at work the other day, nearly done for the afternoon, and all I could think about was going home, putting on comfortable clothes and vegging out in front of the TV. Totally reasonable, right? Here is the challenge – I had a bag packed so I could go to yoga on the way home from work. My daughter was at dance class for several hours and my husband was at work. I was free as a bird and knew, knew, knew I should be going to yoga rather than to the couch. The couch would make me feel terrible and would likely lead to me munching on a bunch of really unhealthy things that would make me feel even worse.

I had an epiphany. Showing up at yoga would be an automatic win. It didn’t matter if I completed a single pose correctly or if I burned a single calorie – just walking in the door made it a victory. Why? Well, it kept me off the couch and out of the fridge (for at least a few hours), it increased the chances I would engage in actual exercise (I was already there) and made me feel more productive overall (yoga vs TV). There are so many areas in our lives where just showing up is the most important part. What you do after you show up matters, but not nearly as much as getting through the door.

Have you had this experience? Let me think of some examples (in case you are too lazy to think of them yourself). Say you feel kinda cruddy and don’t really want to go to work, but aren’t really sick. Walking through the door is your victory. Ever felt like bailing on friends and hiding out at home rather than going out? Show up – you win. You get the idea, right?

Here is the amazing thing about showing up – you usually are really happy you did it. Once you get through the door, you are able to power through – you are able to get a decent workout, put in a full work day and have fun with your friends. Even if it is not fabulous, at least you went and you tried. I often will tell my husband to remind me (when I don’t want to get out of bed to go for a run) that a crappy run is better than no run any day of the week. Remember this – show up. The hardest part is getting off your ass and pushing through the door. After that, it all gets easier.

You Teach People How to Treat You

You teach people how to treat you. This is important enough that I am going to say it again – you teach people how to treat you. If you are frustrated because you feel like the people in your life treat you poorly, maybe it is time to consider why this happening. You are an active partner in their dynamic – what are you doing to perpetuate this relationship? It is critical you figure this out if you want the situation to change because you cannot change something you aren’t aware of.

You can (and should) set limits and boundaries with others. If you have a friend who cancels on you often or blows you off, it is perfectly reasonable to tell them this isn’t OK. Explain how this makes you feel like you aren’t important to them and your friendship doesn’t matter. You friend is given fair warning their behavior is not OK, if they do not change you have a choice. Accept the relationship as it is or leave it. This is 100% your choice and you are responsible for what happens after that. You can’t continue to complain if she bails on you, you’ve accepted her as is.

If you allow your boss to call you at all hours regarding work or to demand long hours of overtime or to belittle you at work or to overwhelm you with unrealistic workloads, you are indicating (even silently) this is acceptable to you. This is a tricky situation. You and your boss are not equals. It is more difficult to set limits with her since she can fire you. If her behavior violates the law your situation might be clearer, but this is often not the case. You can attempt to discuss with her what you are willing and not willing to do, but she may tell you to go pound sand. You then have a choice – accept it or leave. If you choose to accept it, stop complaining or get out. (Reference previous blog on this topic: https://psychobabblechat.com/2014/12/11/you-have-no-right-to-complain/ )

You teach your mother whether or not it is OK to show up unexpectedly at your house. You teach your loved one if it is OK to be out of contact for a few days. You teach your friends if it is OK to make “jokes” at your expense. You teach your boss if it is OK to publicly chastise you for your mistakes. You teach your roommate if it is OK to have regular parties at your apartment. How do you teach them this? By allowing the behaviors to occur (often). Notice a pattern here? When faced with a situation where you are not happy with how someone is treating you (no matter the situation), you only have two choices. Accept it or leave it. If you accept it you are telling the other person it is OK to continue treating you the way they are. You are teaching them how to deal with you.

Introduction to Life Lessons for the Teenage Girl

Final Cover

In my professional life, I’m a psychologist and frequently get the privilege of working with teenage girls like you. I’m constantly amazed by the strength you show in overcoming life’s difficulties. Sometimes, though, you get just a bit lost. I know you’re not stupid. You’re far from stupid as a matter of fact. You’re so much savvier than I was at your age (eons and eons ago, but, despite what my daughter thinks, there were no dinosaurs). Despite your obviously superior smarts, many of the challenges I faced during my teen years continue to frustrate you and your friends today. A primary struggle may be knowing which people you can believe in and trust. Who can you look to for advice when you’re struggling? Often you may not want to discuss your problems with your parents—it’s OK; that’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re learning how to find your own way and can’t do that if you’re looking to your mom and dad for everything.

I frequently hear that parents can’t relate any longer and are too old to understand. Unfortunately, your parents do sometimes know what they’re talking about, and you may miss out on that guidance. It may be incredibly hard to believe, but your parents were actually teenagers once dealing with love and friendships, parents, and problems much the same as you are now. Your mom may be able to understand what it’s like to get your heart broken and tell you how she got through it when it happened to her. You dad might have had a jerk teacher who treated him like crap and may be able to talk with you about how he handled it.

So, if not your parents, where else can you turn? Can you look to your friends? Well, they can be a source of phenomenal support and may be insightful in many ways—they’re in the trenches with you and can relate in ways others may not be able to. The trouble is that they don’t necessarily have any more life experience than you do. There’s something that can be gained from learning from those who have gone before you. So…where do you go?

Frequently, this insight may come from celebrities. These can be people older than you who have had more life experiences than you—all good, right? Well, maybe. The problem is that articles about them rarely contain any real advice. In interviews they are asked about fashion, how they stay thin, and the details of their love lives. These topics may make you feel worse rather than better. All too often the details of the celebrities’ lives are glamorized, which may cause you to feel as though your own life is insignificant. Articles discuss the exciting places where they travel or the other celebrities they date. Some will discuss the fitness regimens the celebrities use to stay in shape, but it will fail to acknowledge their personal trainers or chefs who prepare their meals.

How are you supposed to feel like you can compete? Celebrities are also rarely asked real questions in their interviews that real people can relate to. Maybe they’ll be asked what guidance they might give someone who is trying to break into their industry. Helpful to some, but most of you are not planning a career in the entertainment industry. It also fails to account for women who have achieved success in other industries (for example, business, politics, and sports).

That is where I got the idea for this book. I wanted to ask these successful women what advice shaped them during their teen years or for a piece of advice they wish they’d received when they were teenagers. I left the topic wide open for these women—they were free to write about whatever they wanted. I wanted this book to include women from a variety of industries as well as backgrounds. I wanted to include women whose names might be immediately recognizable to you because they’re actresses (like Kat Graham) or musicians (like Elie Golding), but I also wanted to include women you may have never heard of but definitely should, including politicians (like Janet Nguyen or Mimi Walters) and businesswomen (like Becky Quick).

You may be wondering how I picked these specific women in the first place and how they went from my dream list to actual participants in the book. This was trickier than you might think—it definitely was harder than I thought it would be. Initially, I brainstormed a list of women who I thought would have something useful to contribute. I searched the Internet and picked the brains of my friends and family. I made a list of their agents, business managers, public relations team, attorneys, personal assistants, and corporate contacts.

I then did something somewhat boneheaded. I mailed these contact people a letter explaining the project and why their person should participate. Interestingly, I learned almost no one reads letters anymore—especially unsolicited letters from a complete stranger (me). When I received little feedback from the letters, I realized email would be simpler. I again scoured the Internet to get contact information for those same agents, managers, and publicists, etc., and emailed a similar letter explaining the project. A few more responses began trickling in. Then I remembered the joy that is Twitter. I began tweeting like an idiot, trying to explain the project in 140 characters or less to women who have thousands of followers. This was key. Responses began flooding in.

So why would these amazingly successful women take time out of their busy schedules to participate in this project? Well, it definitely wasn’t for the money. There was none. They didn’t get a dime for their time and efforts. They did it for two reasons: First, they care about you. These women wanted to offer guidance to you as you navigate the difficult teen years. They also wanted you to know that you are not alone in your struggles; they’ve been there too and made it through to the other side. You can survive it too. The second reason was these wonderful women care about charity. I’m donating 50 percent of any royalties received to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

CHLA is a nonprofit hospital that depends on generous donations to help heal children in an environment that lets them thrive. Each year, more than 96,000 sick children come to the hospital for care. I worked at CHLA for a number of years and was consistently awestruck at the quality of care they were able to provide, and I wanted to find a way to contribute to that care. These women saw contributing to this book as a way to also contribute to CHLA. Follow the examples of these amazing women and find ways to give back. You can volunteer your time (or money) to a good cause (anyone you like) and Pay It Forward. You too can positively impact the lives of others.

All of the direct quotes that appear in this book appear entirely as I received them. They weren’t edited for content.

Young Adult Apathy

A colleague and I were talking recently about the number of clients we were seeing with a similar complaint – uncertainty about what the hell to do with the rest of their lives. These are typically people in their early twenties who had either finished or nearly finished an undergraduate degree of some sort. Often, they studied some general type of program, like Communications or Psychology, and had no current plans to attend graduate school. Because of this, their degrees may not have prepared them for any specific career path. These patients often present for treatment with a mixture of anxiety and depression and are looking for some help determining the best direction. They live with their parents (or are supported by their parents outside the family home) and rarely are working for any type of pay. Every possible career option is quickly shot down with complaints of not being interesting, being boring or “not sounding very fun.”

What do we have to say to these young adults? Get a job – any job. I don’t care where – Target, an office, the library, a restaurant – anywhere. You need to be doing something while you are figuring it all out. Your temporary job may help you figure out what you want to do (or at least what you don’t). You are not likely to achieve clarity sitting at home playing video games. You do not get to be a burden on society or on your parents. Sitting at home will only make you more depressed. Get out of the house.

Actually this is a good rule for life – if you aren’t 100 % sure what you should be doing, take small steps until you figure it out. Even if you aren’t taking long strides, short steps keep you moving forward.

How to Divorce without Destroying your Kid

 I was talking to my 9-year-old, Charlie, about my blog – we were brainstorming ideas for my next few posts and she piped up with “When you get divorced from your parents.” I knew what she meant – I think. We’ve noticed more and more over the last few years how many of her friends from school and dance are being raised by divorced parents. I’ve observed divorced parents of all shapes and sizes with as many types of dynamics as you can imagine. They range from so incredibly close that they still spend holidays together (and you almost wonder why they broke up in the first place) to hate-filled and incapable of being in the same room together. My daughter’s focus for this blog was on how kids can handle these situations, but I don’t think a lot of kids read this blog, so I am focusing on you adults, especially those of you who might be parents.

  1. You’ve heard this before – always remember to love your kid more than you hate each other. As much as you are able to keep your co-parenting relationship a positive one, your child’s life will be easier. (They will also be less likely to be able to use the divide and conquer strategies children of divorce have been using for decades). This will make your life easier, too.
  2. Coordinate with your ex as much as possible so there is consistency across households with regard to rules and expectations, as well as rewards and consequences. Kids like it when things are predictable and they know what to expect – make it easier on them and have it be stable no matter who they are with.
  3. Keep your negative thoughts about your ex to yourself. Your child is half that parent and you don’t want them to think “I am half asshole”. Talk with a friend, a family member or (surprise, surprise) your therapist about your complaints about your ex. Your child is not, and should not be, your confidante.
  4. Do not introduce your child to the new man or woman in your life for a while. I’m talking at least a year. Give your child a chance to adjust to having two households before complicating things with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Only introduce them to someone who you think will be a permanent fixture in your life – like marriage. Your child does not need to get used to a steady stream of men and/or women rotating through their parents’ bedrooms.
  5. Outlaw the Disneyland parent. This was really common when I was a kid. The norm used to be that moms had primary custody and dads would have visitation every other weekend. Well, dad had a limited time with his kids and wanted to make the most of it. Therefore, they didn’t work on homework or clean bedrooms or do chores – instead they went bowling and out to eat and to the movies. All fun, all of the time. This created the idea that mom was boring and made them work and dad was a party and non-stop fun. Ban this in your relationship with your ex. You can both be a little fun and a little boring – it is more accurate and realistic.
  6. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions – “Why aren’t you and Dad together anymore?” and “Can’t you and mom move back in together?” You will likely be asked them repeatedly. Your child will be making sense of a new situation. Try to be consistent in your responses and keep your tone light and positive. Focus on how much you and your ex both love your child and how that will never change.
  7. Do not bring up finances with your child ever. Your child does not need to know their father is not paying enough in child support or their mother is not covering child care costs. These are conversations for you and your ex (lawyers, too, maybe), but never for your child. If your child ever asks, your response should be along the lines that this is not something they ever need to worry about and you and the other parent have it covered.

I may have forgotten a few things – any suggestions? The basics are try to be a kind person. There was something about your ex that you loved enough to have children with them and marry them. Remember that. I don’t care if they lied and cheated – if they are a loving parent and will treat your child well (well, well enough, no one is perfect) then get out of the way and be the bigger person. It may feel like you are letting them off of the hook, but really you are only letting your child off of the hook.

Why I am Thankful for a Social Media Free Adolescence

There is at least once a week where I take a moment to give thanks that social media did not exist when I was in high school or college. I wasn’t a bad kid (well at least not a terrible kid), but I was no saint. I was young and impulsive and, at times, full of my own convictions and beliefs which I would have had no problem sharing with the world. I can just picture myself sitting back waiting for the adoration to roll in about how profound and insightful I was. Gah – I was a dork. So… there are many reasons why I am glad my teens and 20s existed in a social media free zone.

  1. Embarrassing pictures. No employer I have or will ever work for has been able to search tragically embarrassing photos of me on the internet. There are pictures out there, but they are not digital and, fortunately, the friends who are in possession of them are now mature enough to recognize posting them would be traumatic and hurtful. There is also the fact it would be a mutually destructive act as I have just as many photos of them. 😉
  2. Bullying sucked when I was a kid. I was lucky and survived relatively unscathed, but the bullies of my era had to know you personally and say it to your face. It was still terrible for those who experienced it, but it did not approach the scale of nameless, faceless people attacking you by the thousands. There is such a cowardice to online bullying and so many are never able to identify or confront their attackers.
  3. The public forum of your life. People know who is dating or breaking up or where they are going and with whom. There is no privacy in the world of social media. Teens typically lack the impulse control not to “overshare” and, therefore, everyone knows everything about everybody.
  4. Social media becomes a popularity contest, but it is an artificial one. The battle can be who has the most friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter or Instagram as if this means there is a genuine relationship. We know this is artificial and, unfortunately, it can turn people away from real relationships with flesh and blood people.
  5. Peer pressure is hard enough to overcome face-to-face. Now pressure can come from multitudes who are not always acting with your best interest at heart.

Look, even without social media during my teens and 20s, I still have no chance to run for President of the United States. There are enough skeletons in my closet and I have friends who know too much, but at least it is not easily accessible though an internet search. I am happy social media became a presence in my life once I had already learned some restraint and became aware of the value of my name and “reputation”. I wonder how that is going to work for today’s teens and young adults as they have already put too much online and there is no way of taking it back. Will it matter or will it become a moot point since they will be on an even playing field with all of their other classmates?

Parental Alienation – it Might Just Bite You in the Ass

In the course of my practice, I come across children from a number of different types of families. I see children whose parents are still married, those who were never married, those with a deceased parent, and those who are divorced or separated. Within those types of families there are those who are able to get a long and those who don’t. None of these family styles are immune from their children having difficulties whether emotional or behavioral, but there are definitely things parents can do to make it better and definitely thing that make it worse.

When parents are still together, I will often have the opportunity to meet them both at some point in treatment. This tells me the parents are (relatively) on the same page and are both interested in their child’s treatment. The difficulty comes in (as a therapist) when parents are no longer together and only one of them participates in their child’s therapy. This can mean a lot of things:

  • The “other” parent is not involved in the child’s day-to-day life. This parent may live far away or may not be exercising their rights to visitation with the child on a regular basis.
  • The “other” parent does not believe the child needs therapy. This parent might not believe in therapy in general or may not thing their child specifically will benefit from treatment.
  • The parent bringing the child to therapy is intentionally excluding the “other” parent and does not allow them to attend sessions. This is accomplished a number of ways – keeping sessions secret and not sharing appointment dates and times to name a few.

The challenge for the therapist is to determine which of these reasons is accurate for the family in treatment. Why does it matter? Well, often the relationship (or the lack of the relationship) with the non-present parent is often a significant part of the child’s treatment. We are given one-sided information from the parent who is present and must determine how biased this information might be. We need to wonder if parental alienation is a factor in our treatment.

What is parental alienation? Parental alienation is when one parent repeatedly trashes the other parent in hopes of creating a strong bond with the child while separating (or alienating) the child from the other parent. This is often done in hopes of obtaining custody of the child and to punish the other parent for some perceive wrong. This is detrimental to the child in a number of ways – not the least is the loss of a relationship with a potentially loving parent. These kids can end up hostile, angry and confused.

What can the “other” parent do in these types of situations? Fight for your child. If they are therapy, attend and participate. If you are being restricted from seeing your child for your regular visitations, involve the courts and seek their assistance. Try not to be pulled into your ex’s strategy by bashing him/her, but try to “take the high road”. If you are able to remain calm, consistent and present for your child, they will eventually mature enough to be able to view the family dynamic with some distance and see what has happened more clearly. Be there for him or her, without anger and judgment. Parental alienation did not just happen to you, it happened to them, too.

Technology Means there are No Secrets

Those of you have been following this blog know I have a daughter (Charlie) who is 9-years-old. She is a super bright kid and always has tons of questions. We were driving to her dance studio earlier this week listening to the radio. (I love to hear her singing along). Suddenly from the back seat, I hear her little voice saying she has a question. I turned down the radio, waiting for yet another round of 20 questions with Charlie. She then asked, “What is Ebola?” Crap. OK, well I launched into my understanding of Ebola while stressing the points that Ebola is only diagnosed in people who have had contact with someone who has Ebola, nearly only occurs in Africa and is not something she needs to worry about personally. This, of course, did not satisfy her fully and we talked about medical treatments available to people who have been diagnosed with Ebola and what she can do to try and protect herself from getting Ebola (i.e., washing her hands and avoiding sick people). This made me realize there is no protecting kids today from potentially scary news and information – they learn about it from social media, the internet, friends, radio and TV. Information is everywhere. What we typically end up doing instead is clarifying potentially false information they have learned from others and allay their related fears. Another thing we can do is use this as an opportunity to have conversations with our kids about bigger issues.

I remember two years ago there was the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I thought I was so clever – I avoided the news on TV and radio while she was with me and made sure we didn’t discuss what had happened when she was around. Then (again driving home) she asked me if I had heard about the bad guy who shot “all of the kids” at a school. I asked what she meant and she explained a friend had told her there was a bad man who had walked into a school and shot everyone – all the students and all of the teachers. Hmmm, maybe I wasn’t so clever after all. So, I had to go back over the situation with her and explain what had really happened. We talked about why it had happened (I had no idea) and what she could do if she were scared at school. Interestingly, the magic thing that helped her to feel calmer was learning the gunman was dead and couldn’t ever hurt her or anyone else.

Remember in 2011 when Charlie Sheen was really off the rails? My darling daughter heard bits about it and wanted to understand what was “wrong with him”. This allowed us to have a great conversation about potential drug and alcohol abuse and how people can suffer with mental health issues. (I have no idea which – if any – of these were challenges for Charlie Sheen, but his crisis lead to great conversations.) Any opportunity I can get to reinforce the dangers of substance use and abuse, I am all over it.

The final example that comes to mind is the death of Michael Jackson. In 2009, Charlie was only 4-years-old, but was still aware of conversations about Michael Jackson’s death by news media, teachers and friends. She was confused about how he died. This was probably our very first conversation about the dangers of drugs. Of course, this conversation was held at an age-appropriate level, but key topics were covered, specifically the dangers of taking any drugs (or medications) in any way other than how they are prescribed by your doctor.

What is your takeaway message here? It is really difficult in this day and age of technology and social media, it is almost impossible to completely shield children from scary and overwhelming news and information. Rather than trying to pretend it isn’t happening, we should find a way to share it in as non-threatening manner as possible. We can even use the information to initiate conversations about important life lessons (i.e., drugs and alcohol, abuse, violence, relationships, etc).