Divorce Demystified Podcast


I recently had the opportunity to visit Lani Baron and Jeanann Khalife, attorney/mediators and partners at Alternative Divorce Solutions to discuss keeping children center focus, even if there are changes going on in a family. My guest episode on their new podcast, Divorce Demystified, is up today on iTunes! Find their podcast and this episode here.

'Eighth Grade' Movie Teaches Parents Compassion for Middle School Angst

'Eighth Grade' Movie Teaches Parents Compassion for Middle School Angst

 As a family therapist, I like to see films that explore family relationships. Middle school is a particularly awkward and difficult time developmentally. It's a pivotal moment in the family life cycle that challenges both parents and teens. A film released this week called Eighth Grade, by director Bo Burnham, will help parents and teachers to understand just how hard it is to be a teen or pre-teen right now. It's a time of so much change. Your body is changing, your skin is breaking out, you're trying to fit in, and you not only have to live through it, but in this generation, also watch it all documented on social media.

The heroine, talented 15-year-old actress Elsie Fisher, is wrapping up the last week of eighth grade, and preparing for graduation and the upcoming transition to high school. Her performance feels very natural and candid. We watch Kayla deal with self-consciousness and body image, social anxiety, trying to create friendships and fit in socially, comparison from Instagram and social media, and the desire to be perceived as 'cool' by others. The film is creatively shot, including showing us how a birthday pool party feels to a 13-year-old girl with social anxiety by showing it from her perspective.

Kayla's single dad, played beautifully by Josh Hamilton, teaches all of us how important it is to continue to love and try to connect with your teen. This is true even when they push us away, find us annoying or are hard to love. Kayla's dad gives a shining example of staying connected to your son or daughter as they navigate the changes of middle school and high school. He's trying to adjust to her pulling away from him and individuate. He is always nearby and consistently patient, loving and reassuring. He's a great dad. He's not afraid to apologize. He doesn't give up. He believes in her. There are some very tender moments where he is like the National Guard, close by  and there when needed.

Director Bo Burnham, age 27, has sensitivity to teens and social media. He became a Youtube celebrity in his teens when he performed his songs. There is a level of care and compassion for the teens in the film that I appreciated. Being a teenager now is not what it was in the past, and Burnham understands this.

In the middle school and high school years, teens need to develop a house of self, and they have to be the ones to open and close the doors to their house. Parents feel it when your loveable child pushes you away as a teen. It can feel like a loss. The best we can do is to appreciate this developmental shift, accept that it doesn't work to force your way closer, but continue to love, listen and set reasonable boundaries. Keep communicating, and listen more than you talk so they don't just tune you out. In Eighth Grade, Kayla asks her Dad to please knock before he comes into her room to say goodnight. She gets annoyed when he talks too much or even if he's quiet. It illustrates how much parents need thick skin to not take things to personally. (It might all look better when they are in college.)

The movie also gives insight to what it feels like to have some social anxiety. Director Burnham acknowledges that he suffered with anxiety growing up. It feels honest.

Parents should see the movie first, as you may think it's not appropriate for your teen to see. The film is rated R for a couple of cringe-worthy scenes about sexual pressure teens experience, which parents may feel could open up important teen-parent dialogue, or may feel is too much. The movie will definitely give you insight into some of the challenges your son or daughter may be dealing with that weren't a part of your growing up experiences.

There has never before been a generation that got through the struggles of adolescence while simultaneously curating and branding the experience on social media. They are pioneers, and it's not easy. This is a big experiential divide, and seeing this film may well help you navigate this with compassion and care. Teens have never been more connected, or felt more depressed and anxious. Parents who can stay connected, even when it's hard, make a huge difference.

Something to Look Forward to (and Other Signs of Mental Wellness)

Something to Look Forward to (and Other Signs of Mental Wellness)

It's the time of year when I like to start making plans for a summer trip someplace interesting. This summer, we are tracing our family history back to Denmark, which is providing many happy hours of researching castles and historical places to see there. Planning this trip reminds me how very important it is for each of us to have something in the planning that we are looking forward to. We get old inside when we don't have something to look ahead to with excitement. It can be months or even a year or two away, but we need positive goals to target so we don't get stale and bored with routine.

Positive psychology studies mental health and wellness, rather than mental illness or pathology. Martin Seligman Ph.D. is one of the founding fathers of this area of study. Seligman wrote Authentic Happiness, and Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The diagnostic manual therapists use to code counseling visits for insurance purposes (DSM) doesn't include wellness goals and signs of mental health and growth. Therapists (and each of us) should think about these positive growth areas as goals to work towards in our lives, rather than just eliminating symptoms. Seligman believes we need to focus less on what can go wrong in psychology, and more on what can go right, including the development of the character strengths of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.

If one sign of wellness is having something to look forward to, here are some other indicators of strong mental health and emotional maturity:

1. Flexibility---Being able to adapt to the changes life brings by being flexible and resilient is a strong positive. Rigidity in the face of disappointment or loss is not useful or adaptive. In each individual's life, there will be things that happen that you did not want or expect. How you learn to be flexible and begin again is everything. As people age, this willingness to adapt becomes even more necessary and a hallmark for healthy living.

2. Gratefulness/Joy---Being appreciative for the people and things in your life, and the little joys in your daily path is a definite sign of health. Many mentally healthy people make a practice of practicing gratefulness each morning for a few minutes, whether spoken or written.

3. Assertiveness---Being able to ask for what you want, positively, and without guilt.

4. Ability to listen---Learning to really listen, deeply, and from the heart, changes the depth of how understood others feel by you. Most people stop talking at times, but aren't really listening and reflecting back actively what they are hearing and how things make you feel.

5. Directness---Being able to speak directly to anyone and let them know what you feel, or make a request. This means not being passive aggressive, holding unexpressed feelings inside, and creating resentment. Directness doesn't mean rudeness. It's respectful of both you and the other person. It's being brave enough to go direct, rather than going to a third party and complaining.

6. Setting boundaries---Being able to say "no" if you don't feel a "yes" inside you. Being able to set boundaries and hold them means your yes really means something, as it's not out of guilt or obligation.

7. Taking personal responsibility---The willingness to apologize, make repairs and amends in relationships, and offering forgiveness show self-awareness and a level of emotional maturity.

8. Understanding your own emotions and being aware of the feelings of others----This is known as emotional intelligence. Being aware of your own emotions lets you learn to self-soothe in healthy ways when you are stressed or down. Being aware of the emotional state of others you care about allows you to become emotionally attuned and supportive in your close relationships.

9. No buffering---Letting negative feelings be expressed appropriately, but not buffering with food, alcohol, drugs, or the overuse of electronics. Living without numbing your feelings allows you to be fully alive, and know that you can get through negative feelings without addictive behaviors. About 50% of our feelings will be positive and 50% may be negative, so learning how to accept and process negative emotion without buffering is of critical importance.

10. Going outside----Spending some time outside in nature centers us, puts things in perspective and helps ground us. Who doesn't feel less stressed with a walk by the ocean or a hike in the hills?

11. Connecting to others---Friends and close relationships are good medicine. Many people are too isolated and that loneliness prevents maximum mental health. Actively seeking out time with others you enjoy in your family or neighborhood is a positive mental health strategy. The healthiest people have friends of various ages, and an openness to adding new potential friends all their lives. If you live a long life, you will need friends who are younger, too.

12. Honesty--Speaking your truth at all times. This will make others trust you.

13. Expressiveness---It's a sign of mental health if you actively let people know when you love and care about them and express it will verbal expression and non-verbal warmth (hugs, affection with loved ones).

14. Ability to play or be serious (as the situation warrants).

15. Not taking things personally. Many difficulties that happen in life and in relationships aren't personal.

16. Getting enough sleep, and having standard sleep hours. Develop a nightly ritual of how you wind down the last hour of the day to ease into sleep. Keep the time you awake consistent. Good sleep hygiene helps protect you from anxiety, depression and mood swings .I often work on sleep patterns with teens and 20-somethings in counseling.

17. Managing food well, to maximize health and emotional and physical wellness. Plan regular meals, and limit sugar and caffeine which impact mood and trigger mood swings.

18. Being active physically--to manage stress, clear your mind and keep your body moving.

19. Being of service to others and creating community.

20. Handling money responsibly--- not learning to do this creates worry, stress and anxiety. Learning to live within your budget and save for the future enhances mental wellness.

To create well-being, we need meaning, contribution, relationships, connection, achievement and engagement. Positive psychology helps us look not just at problems, but at building a road map for a happier, more meaningful life. Focusing on developing positive mental health practices is a mindful approach to creating the life you want. Having mental wellness goals helps you to keep having a growing edge in your life, which keeps you vital and inspired. What are you looking forward to?

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

Mark Nepo, poet, writer and philosopher, calls listening the doorway to everything that matters. The start of a new year is a wonderful time to consider how we can listen in more stillness and with more openness and receptivity this year to each person whose life touches ours. Nepo's book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred (Simon and Shuster, 2012), offers some beautiful questions for personal reflection and new ways to approach your interactions with others. As a cancer survivor and someone who is losing his hearing, Nepo is especially insightful about what really matters.

At this particular time in our country and our world, when people are divided into tribes of like-minded others, perhaps listening deeply from the heart before responding is more important than ever before. Finding stillness and silence within is a necessary ingredient for being fully present for yourself and for others.

Here is one of the lovely prompts for meditative reflection in Nepo's book:

Go outside if you can or sit near a window. Breathe slowly and watch the season you are in unfold around you. Close your eyes and look within. Breathe slowly and watch the season unfold before you. Inhale and listen for the still point under all seasons. Breathe deeply and listen for the filament of light that lives within you. Calm yourself and listen to the seasons you are in, the body you are in, and the light rising within you.

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen also offers some very thoughtful questions to ask over coffee or at the table when you gather with friends or loved ones for a meal. Here are a couple of the questions:

Give the history of a conflict you are currently a part of. (Think of a fishing net between you and the other person. The net can get torn or tangled.) How is the relationship tangled and torn? What are some steps you could take to unravel the tangle or repair what is torn? Invite honest feedback from your listeners. When the time feels right, approach the person you have the conflict with. Invite the other person's point of view about how the relationship is tangled, torn and off-center. Let your heart guide you to what comes next.

Share an instance when you heard the loudness of something falling apart.  Listen to everyone's answer before discussing. Next, share an instance when you heard the subtlety of something coming together. Stilling of our pain is a fierce blessing we resist, offer what this means to you.

Listening is a mysterious and challenging art form. We can always get better at it. Listening is transformative, for ourselves and for each other. I highly recommend Seven Thousand Ways to Listen as a wonderful study to learn more about self and becoming more emotionally and spiritually present within your relationships. When you think about the people who have listened to you the most deeply during your lifetime so far, you realize how many people speak and how few people really cultivate the art of listening well.

Envisioning Your Best Holiday Season

Envisioning Your Best Holiday Season

The approaching holidays start popping up in my conversations with my counseling clients every year about this time. I'm a believer of empowering yourself and your family to re-choreograph the holidays from year to year. What feelings do you get when you realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, with the other holidays quickly following? Does it give you stress? Do you feel excitement or dread? Here are some ideas for re-imagining the holiday season ahead.

What if you have all the stuff you need? You could talk with family members about giving each other gifts of time or experiences together instead of stuff.

Perhaps this is your first holiday season after a loss of a loved one, or after experiencing the loss of divorce. During grief, some families want to keep as much the same as possible, while others want to change things. Talk it over and find out how each family member feels about this first holiday season and perhaps how you want to honor memories from the past.

If you are newly divorced and have children, it's so important to help the children transition smoothly and comfortably from your house to sharing some holiday time with their other parent. This is really the best present you can give your children if they face two households for the holidays. 

What if you want to create a debt-free January? I have several clients who are on track saving for their first home by putting away money each month. It's important not to let the holidays blow up your budget. You could initiate a discussion at Thanksgiving about choosing names and each adult buying a gift for one person instead of the usual overload. You might also consider making homemade gifts or setting price limits to add a new creativity level to gift giving.

What about if you're going to be alone for the holidays? Think of ways you can make that day wonderful for yourself. Can you add in other holiday experiences with friends at other times throughout the holiday season? Can you reach out to others who will be alone that day in your neighborhood or community and lift their spirits? Much of the joy of the holidays is sharing that spirit with others.

What if you dread seeing some negative relative who ruins the spirit of the holidays for you? Practice acceptance and being non-judgmental, but don't get trapped in a long, toxic monologue. Seek out the people at family gatherings who lift you up or who you want to connect with. Don't be passive. Make a plan!

How can you get unstuck from holidays patterns you're tired of? Discuss it with your partner or your family, as early as you can. You might want to be home Christmas morning at your place this year, streamline the regular activities or change things up in some other way that would be easier, or more fun and memorable.

Maybe you're being healthier, or have family members who are vegan, have food allergies or dietary restrictions. Perhaps each person can prepare a dish to share. A moveable feast which moves to different houses in the family for a different course could also increase the fun and keep any one person from getting too overwhelmed.

You might consider initiating holiday activities together that are activity-based rather than food-oriented. Could you take an evening drive together to enjoy the festive lights and have hot chocolate or hot cider afterward as a new tradition? A holiday-themed play or music performance could also be a fun way to gather with loved ones. It could be memorable to attend a community tree lighting, or volunteer together for a local charity or family in need.

Any of your holiday experiences can be recreated and updated if you give yourself permission to evaluate other options for the holidays. Consider which traditions are important to you personally, and which are not. Ask the rest of the family to do the same.

Think of this holiday season re-imagined, with more meaning and spirit, and less drudge. You're free to create the holiday season you wish. Only you can give yourself permission to set your intentions and be as conscious about the upcoming holiday season as you are in the rest of your life. Make this holiday season something you remember with a smile after it's over.

The Importance of Asking

The Importance of Asking

It's only by asking for what you want that you can feel known, seen and heard in each of your relationships. Are you speaking up enough to make sure your hopes, desires, wants and needs get represented? Both at home and at work, it's important to identify what you really want and ask for it. Most people don't. It's more common that individuals don't take time to consider what they want, or are hesitant to ask for it. We can end up frustrated because we aren't getting our true needs or desires met.

Assertively asking for what you want takes bravery. This is especially true for women, as we are often socialized to strive for the self-sacrificing, people-pleasing feminine archetype. In many families, girls are still raised to defer to the needs of others in order to achieve becoming the nurturing, loving person that mothers and grandmothers may have modeled.

There are three ways to approach getting your needs met: being aggressive, passive or assertive.

If we act aggressively, we demand what we want from others. While this approach may work, it's likely that others will resent us. We may get loud or intrusive with others to extort our needs. Aggressive people can use threats or intimidation. While this method may sometimes be effective at the moment, it's likely to erode your relationship with the other person who begins to see you as a bully.

If we take a passive approach, we don't realize our own desires or we don't express them to others. This might occur because we are afraid of risking and getting a "no" from the other person. We may feel afraid that the other person will reject us if we express our preferences. Being passive can lead to feeling depressed and unsatisfied. A passive approach can lead to collecting regrets about how our career or relationships are progressing. Unexpressed needs in our closest relationships can make us feel we are not fully known, and perhaps not even in the right relationship.

Acting assertively means that you take time to deeply consider your own desires, and you artfully ask for them. The other person is likely to respect us more for asking. Asking directly doesn't give you a guarantee that you will get what you want, but it greatly increases the odds on your side. Remember that no one reads your mind, or can accurately intuit your needs. You are likely to feel more positively about yourself for asking for what you want. It will increase your self-esteem and help you become your authentic self. If the other person says no to your request, at least you are no further back than if you hadn't asked.

What is the enlightened art of asking?

!. Choose a good, quiet time to ask when you are alone with the other person.

2.. Making polite requests. Be specific. When you do this, it empowers the other person to also ask things of you. You could ask your partner to take turns with you planning date nights every other Saturday. You could ask your children to put their backpacks away right when they get home. You could ask your supervisor for the ability to initiate a new project that you would find interesting.

3. In personal relationships (not work), preface by letting the other person know it is okay if they need to say no, but you'd like to ask for something.

4. Thank the other person for listening and considering your request, whether or not they are willing to grant your request. Be sincere.

Learning the art of asking is important in creating the life, relationships and work life that you want. It is one of the necessary skills for communicating clearly and directly with others. It will be helpful to you in beginning to feel that you are living the life you want to be living. If we fail to be assertive, we are not living as fully as possible. It's not likely that even a sensitive partner, boss or friend will ever read your mind. Practice the healthy habit of taking the risk to ask. In this way, you allow yourself to be more fully alive and more fully known. Your openness will also help encourage those you are in a relationship with to also ask for what they need or want from you. The end result can be a relationship that is more alive, dynamic and satisfying for both people.

Being Intentional About Your Marriage: Ten Habits to Cultivate

Being Intentional About Your Marriage: Ten Habits to Cultivate

Wonderful marriages don't just happen. They require being intentional about your behaviors and being "all in". Having a strong marriage involves choosing well and then being your best self in the relationship. Marriages don't stay in a static state, they are dynamic and ever-changing. You get to decide if you want to put the effort in to stay close. There are few experiences in life as fulfilling as being in a close, satisfying marriage.  Here are ten healthy patterns that will help you create the marriage you've dreamed of:

1. Have some fun together regularly. Schedule regular date nights together. I like to have husbands and wives take turns making the date plans. Everyone likes to be courted, and have their partner put some effort and thinking into making the relationship enjoyable.

2. Make each other a priority. Save some energy and time for each other. Don't bring yourself home with no energy left for your partner.

3. Take personal responsibility for being a happy, well adjusted partner and sharing that happiness with your partner. Don't look for your partner as your only source of happiness.

4. Encourage and support each other. There are a number of predictable phases of marriage that are especially challenging, like the years when children are small, are teens, and when you launch the kids and have an adjustment to being just a couple again. Have the awareness that your marriage needs extra tender loving care at these times.

5. Talk with each other every day. Share your feelings, hopes, frustrations and goals. Create couples time daily where you block all the noise of your lives, including turning off television, phones and all technology to make space for the relationship. Doing this tells your partner they are the most important person in your life.

6. Fight fairly. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Use "I" statements, not "You" statements. Keep calm. Only try to resolve one difficulty at a time. No surprise attacks. Instead, get your partner's agreement to spend a little time talking something out that you are upset about, either right at the time or as soon as you can work it out to do so. Avoid the use of "always" and "never", as they box your partner in and make them feel helpless to improve your perception of them. Ask them for what you would like them to do differently next time. Be willing to apologize with sincerity.

7. Develop and express empathy for your partner. When I see couples who are mature enough to see their partners' perspective, I know we can make positive progress. Marriage can teach us to be more unselfish. Most individuals bring some past hurts from growing up into the love relationship. Trying to understand each other's wounds from childhood (loss, abandonment, lack of support, criticism, control) and be a source of healing for your loved one.

 8. Be honest and transparent. Don't avoid conflict by hiding your needs, your struggles or concerns. Be known in your marriage. Don't hide out. Close the exits.

9. Maintain boundaries. Don't discuss concerns about your marriage with friends or extended family. Doing so invites others who are not neutral into the sacred ground of your relationship. Instead, speak directly to your partner about your concerns. If you have challenges or need tools, see a licensed marriage and family therapist.

10. Express affection. Most affairs happen not for just the physical attention, but more often for the emotional connection. Affair-proof your marriage by making the physical and emotional connection important to you. Touch your partner daily.

Working with a marriage and family therapist is like working with a trainer for your most important relationship. We all have just what we saw in our family growing up as an example. It's exciting to take responsibility for editing and changing any parts of the family script about what marriages can be like. When we know better, we can do better. Your marriage is a terrific opportunity to become a better person, and create the intimacy you have always wanted.

Time for Some Loving-Kindness

Time for Some Loving-Kindness

One of the leading experts in Loving-kindness meditation, Sharon Salzberg, has a new book called Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection (Flatiron Books, 2017) which is full of ways to center yourself this summer and get back to a peaceful loving center that can radiate kindness to yourself and outwards to all others. In a world of increasing anxiety, we need this ability more than ever.

Here are some useful takeaways from her approach:

The capacity to love generously and give compassion exists inside each of us. Difficult experiences may make it more challenging to trust or love, but the capacity to do so still exists within us.

Compassion isn't a special talent. It's available to each of us by paying attention to others and being aware of the limitless number of ways we can connect with other human beings. This includes strangers as well as people we care about.

All experiences hold the potential to help us learn, grow and accept ourselves and others as we are.

We can let go of the negative stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future.

The more we practice loving-kindness for ourselves, the more easily we can share it with others.

Random acts of kindness and compassion improve not only the other person's state of mind, but ours as well.

Being mindful helps us see situations and conflict in a new way, recognizing feelings like anger but not getting lost in them.

As we release expectations and assumptions in relationships, we free ourselves up for real love.

Giving loving-kindness to others doesn't make you weak, it makes you strong and authentic.

How can we learn to soften up that space within us that cares about you and others? Loving-kindness meditation is a tool that can help you cultivate this sense of peace and well-being. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Start with the phrases, "May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be filled with peace and may I be filled with loving-kindness." When your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your words, and the gentle repetition of these phrases. Wrap up the meditation session by extending that generosity and loving-kindness as a blessing to all beings everywhere. When finished, open your eyes gently and relax. Try this practice daily and watch for what unfolds inside of you.

Salzberg's book is a good reminder that no matter how many anxious and upsetting things are going on around us, taking a few minutes everyday to practice compassion and kindness for ourselves is a wonderful place to act locally. As we let go of our own perfectionism and habits of being busy and distracted, we can be more present in our relationships with everyone else our life touches. We can each do our part of bringing more compassion, forgiveness and love into everyday life. Most human beings I know are so thirsty for it and we are each a source.

The Collapse of Parenting

A friend of mine who is a very experienced preschool teacher recommended a book about parenting that I got the opportunity to read on a long plane flight this week. The book is by pediatrician and psychologist Leonard Sax, and is called The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Children When We Treat Them like Grown-Ups (Basic Books, 2015). Sax has some important observations about his twenty-five plus years of experience seeing parents, children and teens in his private pediatric medical practice. He also has extensive experience both within the US and around the world lecturing, listening and learning about the challenges families, parents and schools experience while helping to raise great kids.

I found the book well-researched and a very easy read in a few hours. Sax gives you a peek into his pediatric office to observe parenting shifts and disasters, like teens telling parents to shut up (in front of him!), or well-meaning parents giving an 8 year old complete control of a major life decision, like which school they want to attend.

While the title sounds like it might be critical of parents, I found that he's really trying to empower parents to use their positive leadership to guide and direct their children and teens into better outcomes. Sax suggests that changes in society becoming more egalitarian in the past several decades has put parents in a more unsure position about what is fair to ask of their children. He reminds us that parents are, from my perspective as a structural family therapist, the co-architects of the family. While we want families to be democratic, and I like children to have a say, it's not in their best interest to always have their way.

It's hard at times to be a kid or a teen. Having strong, loving parents who can set limits effectively and create rituals for connection like family dinners, bedtimes, boundaries and chores helps young people prepare to be better adults who have successful skills for operating in the world they will launch into. None of us grow up to be the center of the universe, so growing up learning how to contribute and cooperate with others is essential.

Here were a few of the ideas that Sax presents that I concur with as a therapist in private practice in Newport Beach, California for the past 25 years:

1. Parents are not meant to be their child's friend. You're the parent. You want to be approachable and loving, but not a doormat. An active parent is involved, provides structure, love and limits, but is also a leader in your child's life. You're not all equal. I want parents to be the executives in the family, involving the kids input, but not afraid to set the tone or some rules and traditions.

2. Family dinners are super important. Have as many as you can work out each week. All kinds of studies support that this helps children and teens feel more connected, feel less anxious and/or depressed and do better in school. Put all interruptions away and make it positive connecting time.

3. Don't allow everything outside the family to obliterate time as a family. Like Dr. Sax, I have for years seen loving and well-intentioned parents here in Orange County be exhausted taking each child to multiple extracurricular activities each week so that family time becomes the last priority and gets only fragmented leftovers. Make some sacred times that are just for family every week where everybody knows to protect that time. It's reasonable for the kids to have activities, but don't let any activity overtake your parenting vision of what your family needs to stay close.

4. Parents and children need to have fun together where we are completely present. As working parents, we are often overwhelmed or tempted to multi-task, but being fully available to enjoy some time together every week is critical. When families with teens come in to my counseling practice with concerns about a teen's behavior, I usually ask parents to increase the positive (fun) time together with their son or daughter, as well as other interventions that we will work on to improve their situation.

5. Teach your child humility and self-control. Rather than offering praise just for accomplishments or "wins", use your powerful positive parental attention to praise effort, resiliency, compassion, kindness, tolerance, and being brave enough to try something they fail at.

6. Don't become a short order cook. Sax has some interesting thoughts and observations about family meals and the increase in childhood obesity from his perspective as a pediatrician. Just as you can't let a 4 year old decide if they want to brush their teeth, it's best not to let them dictate the meal plans you are making. I work with a great nutritionist on this issue with families and find that it's best to serve a variety of healthy foods. It's easy to incorporate some of the things the kids like, while encouraging them to try new things. 

7. Limit screen time. I think we all know this one, but it bears repeating as Sax correlates his observations with kids behaving better, feeling happier and getting more activity and creative time when parents hold the line on some reasonable amount of screen time with phones, computers and tablets. Make the amount of screen time age appropriate. Most teens are not sleeping enough and he recommends all phones be docked with parents overnight.

8. Friends are important developmentally for children and teens, but so is family time. Set some boundaries to protect family times, to play together, eat together, do chores together and travel or vacation together. In recent years, friends have been elevated in importance with children and teens, sometimes to the detriment of family connection and memory making.

9. Do not allow disrespect. Don't treat your children disrespectfully, and don't accept that behavior from them. Mutual respect is the most important ingredient in families and relationships.

Sax also shares his own views on ADHD and psychotropic medications, preferring that they be used as a last option rather than the first one. Sometimes I find these medications essential and completely necessary, but it's often prudent to try to work in counseling to talk through issues and shift parenting first. While some of his suggestions may seem a bit unrealistic for families now, but there are still plenty of good ideas in this book to pick from and to help you feel more empowered as a parent to create the family you hoped for.

I recommend Dr. Sax's book as important reading for parents. While parents can feel adrift and unsure, this book will give you permission to hold strong as the architects of your family to avoid being a doormat or a dictator, but become a strong, loving parent raising young adults who will thrive as they launch and move into the real world. That's essentially our purpose in parenting anyway, isn't it? That's what I want for my children and all the children, teens and families I help.

Creating Connection in Our Disconnected World

It occurred to me this week that there are very few times in our daily lives now where we have someone else's full attention. It's the most powerful gift we can give another person. People are often distracted with their phones, or multi-tasking. Partial or split attention is just not as meaningful or satisfying emotionally. Listening with our heart and full attention in trying to understand another person feels wonderful. It tells the other person that they are valued and important.

When we walk into a store or a restaurant and no one acknowledges us or greets us, or the staff seems busy or hassled, we feel disgruntled and unimportant. We don't feel as good about our experience with the business. In our personal relationships, when we don't welcome our spouse home or make time to consciously connect with our children, or be available for a close friend, they also feel less connected and less important to us.

The epidemic and compulsive attention to our cell phones is changing the quality of our relationships. When you are out at a restaurant next time, look around and observe how many couples or families are each on their own devices, completely ignoring each other. The need to not miss out on what might be happening somewhere else is overpowering our need to be present for ourselves in our own lives and for those who matter most to us.

How can we stop this cultural shift towards disconnection? Rebel. Be weird, and not like everybody else. Do things differently. For example, set times when technology is completely off---like mealtimes, after 5 at night, or weekends. Take time waster apps off your cell phone. Don't check email nights or weekends. It's not enough to put a cell phone aside nearby or on silent. Our most important relationships can tell if we are peeking to check it or have it completely out of reach with our complete presence, inviting them to connect. It's really a meditative discipline to practice being FULLY available and opening our heart, listening for understanding.

In her simple but helpful book, Consciously Connecting: A Simple Process to Reconnect in a Disconnected World (Balboa Press, 2014), writer Holland Haiis gives small ideas that can get you started on creating healthier patterns that are framed around the months of the year. These include creating patterns for quiet, for gratitude, for simple joys, for play, for less stuff and for exploring who you really are and what really makes you happy.

When I was a child, I remember spending the day with a family friend who suggested she and I spend the whole day getting lost taking a drive and finding our way back home. It was a wonderful adventure I never forgot. Perhaps being fully available is the one priceless thing we can share that means more than anything we could purchase. Shared time, spent consciously making ourselves fully available to another person creates the possibility and context for the magic of connection. These are the moments that bond us to each other, that we savor and cherish. Time spent connecting to our true nature, by being in solitude and allowing time for reflection and creativity is essential.

As Haiis explains in her book, "An inordinate amount of time is spent looking for approval from the outside world desperate for the great internal sources of so-called validation. In the midst of that disconnection you have forgotten to look within; you have forgotten to trust yourself. This work is about engaging your focus back onto you--- not on the ego, as there is plenty of that, but the deeper connection," to ourselves and each other.

Reject disconnection from yourself and from the people you most care about. Be a rebel for conscious connection with what matters most. You are the architect of your life, and don't let any cell phone or penchant to multi-task take away your power to create the life you find most fulfilling.

Your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals

Happy New Year! Do you know what your big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs) are going to be as we begin a brand new year?

Often we set goals that are boring, too small, not exciting or compelling. New Year's resolutions are like that: often negative, boring, short-term, kind of a drag. We need to aim bigger. It may be helpful not to think in terms of one-year goals, but instead about your goals for the next 10, 20, or even 30 years. Think bigger about what may be possible. The best goals are ones that you are only about 60% sure you can pull off. They should make you feel excited.

Big, hairy, audacious goals were first coined by business consultants James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins and Porras believe good enough is often the enemy of greatness in companies. Some of my clients who are entrepreneurs set BHAGs for their companies, to help build a strong, spirited leadership team and a company that can outlast the present management team.

What if we set big, hairy, audacious goals for our personal lives as well? Perhaps good is the enemy of great relationships as well as companies. What if we could focus and build a team spirit in our closest relationships?

How do you know if you are setting BHAGs for your personal life?

Your goals should include some big relational goals that inspire and emotionally compel you. The goals get you excited about your life and what you REALLY want.

Your goals should include things that could take you 5, 10, 20 or 30 years to create.

You should articulate a clear finish line, so you know when you get there.

Clearly spell out what you would like to create, experience or build in your personal life. They should create a team spirit with your partner and family.

The right goals feel like a reason to get up in the morning, and a certain boldness and intensity that you can get excited about.

What are some BHAGs for your personal life?  

It could be creating a fantastic marriage: close, interdependent, emotionally honest, open, mutually supportive, playful, communicative. You could decide not to be in a mediocre one. Instead, you could choose to lean in fully into your marriage and take full responsibility for making it as good as it can possibly be.

It might be creating more simplicity and freedom, perhaps by paying off your house and having no debt.

Your goal may have to do with selfless service, and applying your gifts to serve others.

You could choose to strengthen your family relationships with children and grandchildren.

You may want to develop yourself by learning a new skill, taking on a new instrument, athletic goal, or making travel dreams happen.

Your goal could be to overcome your past emotional limitations, childhood pain, and hurt.

You could get real about an addiction and deal with it.

You could stop being a victim, and heal.

You might want to seek counseling for the anxiety or depression you've been dragging behind you for years.

You could choose to become less angry and reactive.

You can choose to rewrite your story.

Be bold and brave as you face the new year. Take on a few big, hairy, audacious goals that excite and scare you a little in your personal life in 2016. You're the only one that can choose to do it for you. Don't think too small, live too small, or dream too small. Big, hairy, audacious goals are great for your business life, but they are also a way to enrich and excite your personal life with some challenge to grow. Don't be limited to good. Be great, and be a part of creating great relationships.

When The Holidays Are Hard

The holidays are here, and it's a difficult time for some people. There are lots of ideas about what the holidays should be like: a loving, supportive family all gathering together to celebrate, sharing family time, all getting along well. Just add snow and something wonderful cooking in the kitchen. We want the Norman Rockwell view of the holidays.

As it turns out, even Norman Rockwell didn't have that happy family. I recently read American Mirror, a new Rockwell biography by Deborah Solomon with a psychological look at the artist's life and work. His childhood years weren't that happy. His mother was a hypochondriac, self-involved, and they lived in a boarding house for many years because she was too overwhelmed to cook or care for the family. As adults, he and his brother stopped any contact, with his brother writing to lament the fact that he didn't know anything about Norman or his family. In his own adult life, happiness and close family relationships were elusive. Norman was married 3 times, worked 7 days a week until he got dementia, and wasn't that involved as a husband or father. Appearances aren't always what they seem: even the families portrayed in his paintings were usually assembled groups of strangers.

There is pressure during the holidays to have a close family, decorate your home, buy meaningful and expensive gifts, cook excellent meals, and feel happy inside.

What if you don't feel happy?

Not all families are close. For some people, the holidays underscore the gap where meaningful extended family relationships don't exist. You may have had an emotional cut-off in your family, with some family members not speaking to you.

This might be your first holiday season after the death of a family member or person close to you. 

This could be your first year coping with the changes and loss of a divorce. Maybe you share custody of your children and will be without them for some or all of the holidays.

You might be coping with depression. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, these short winter days can be extremely challenging, even before you add in holiday tasks.

How can you rethink the holidays if it seems overwhelming or difficult?

1. Give yourself options. You can keep the usual traditions, or give yourself permission to change things up.

2. Do extreme self care. During the holidays, keep up your exercise, your healthy eating plan, and schedule some alone time.

3. Do something different. If you have never volunteered before, starting now might really give your mood a boost and put things in perspective. No matter what your loss or difficulty, there is always someone who needs your help.

4. Give yourself permission to say no. Several of my clients that have become sober this
year are opting out of party situations that might put their sobriety at risk. Great choice! You can also take your own car to visit family, and shorten up the time frames on visits with family members who stress you out.

5. Carry your own holiday boundaries. In family gatherings and work events, seek out the people you enjoy and resonate with. Focus on the people you enjoy. Minimize the contact with the Debbie Downers, and other toxic people in your family. Be pleasant but brief.

6. Take your inner adult with you to visit the family. Even the famous family therapist Murray Bowen wrote in an article called "Going Home" that when he went home to see his parents for the holidays he struggled to keep channeling his inner adult and stay differentiated in a healthy way. There is something about that primordial soup of undifferentiated ego mass that tries to suck you into feeling powerless and 8 years old. Don't go there!

7. Consider making plans to invite people you know who might be alone at the holidays to join you.

8. Show flexibility. If the children aren't with you on Christmas, have some fun making another day Christmas. It's your mood and spirit they will remember, not the date.

9. Take the focus off of buying stuff. Focus instead on experiences and relationships. It's not about stuff, or creating debt for January.

10. Use this holiday season to listen to music that inspires you, develop your spiritual side, and begin envisioning what you would like to create in the new year as we wrap up 2015.

11. Reach out for more healthy support: people who care and are a good influence on you.

12. Avoid alcohol if you are feeling down. Alcohol is a depressant. It will make you feel worse.

Create a holiday season that suits you. Don't give in to the pressure, hype and expectations to do things that no longer work for you. It's time for your own kind of holiday, and you're just the person who can make that happen. The first holiday season following a loss can be difficult. You can choose your response to the loss, and find ways to be kind and gentle to yourself through a challenging holiday season.

Raising An Entrepreneur (Book Review)


Wouldn't you love to have a chance to have a conversation with the mothers of some noteworthy entrepreneurs, like the founder of TOMS Shoes, the CEO of YouTube, the founder of WordPress, and the founder of Under Armour, about how they raised their children to think outside the box? A newly released book, Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers and Change Makers by Margot Machol Bisnow (New Harbinger, 2016) gives us that opportunity.

I heard Bisnow interviewed recently, and she's a powerhouse herself, having raised two rather amazing, entrepreneurial sons while she worked as a Federal Trade Commissioner and Chief of Staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. As our economy continues changing, Bisnow has some terrific ideas about ways to parent our children that help them focus on what they are passionate about, developing an expertise in that area, and setting out to solve a problem or provide a better service than currently exists.

Bisnow notes that most of our daughters will work either full or part-time, and so helping prepare them to think about their own business helps them to create the flexibility they will want and need as they combine work and parenthood. In her interview, Bisnow reflects on her journey as a working mom that there are three choices related to parenting for women: work full-time, work part-time or be a stay at home parent. There is guilt, she reflects, with each choice.

Making lots of money probably isn't the best route to satisfaction in one's life. It wasn't the primary intention of the successful men and women that she interviewed. Most of them followed something that they were passionate about that felt like a cause, or like play. Their mothers also encouraged their exploration and interest.

What were some of the other commonalities in the parenting of these individuals?

Children need support from parents to explore, and follow their passion.

Parents believed in their children, and expressed it.

Children were supported in learning to win, but also to lose. It can be sports, or something else, but children need to learn that disappointment does not mean defeat.

Don't make the focus getting straight A's.  Schools don't always encourage future entrepreneurs.

Mentors are helpful to young people who think outside the box. They can inspire and encourage bold and courageous choices, even if it's a non-traditional path to success.

Instill confidence in your child or teen. Point out what they do well with. Trust them. Encourage your child's curiosity and sense of adventure.

Develop your child's growing sense of independence, giving them more operating room as they develop and you can reward good choices. Let them fly more each year if you can.

Help your child embrace adversity as a teacher. Don't let them get stuck in victim-hood. None of the successful entrepreneurs in the book came from from advantaged families, and many overcame significant obstacles, including financial stress, the early loss of a parent, the divorce of parents, bullying and more. Parents encouraged them to define themselves by their circumstances growing up. I'm guessing that the mothers tried to role model that resiliency as well.

Help your child to become compassionate to others. The founder of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie, has a great story in this book about how he learned compassion from his family adopting needy families at Christmas, and his family's outreach projects through church while he was growing up.

Be a close family. Express love. You may not have dinner together every night, but create traditions of your own. Create a culture of your own. Several families in the book were all about reading, service to others or building entrepreneurial spirit, even in the kids.

This book is an excellent, practical read from someone who understands parenting and encouraging entrepreneurship. I especially loved that her grown sons wrote the forward to the book. Helping our children to identify and use their unique gifts to connect to the bigger picture and make the world a better place is a noble cause and well worth the ideas about how to incorporate this bigger picture into your parenting.


Healing the Heart Through Art and Music

Art and music can both be excellent mediums to help you access and process memories, feelings and experiences. I was reminded of this while working with one of my counseling clients recently who is learning to cope with a family member's life threatening illness.

Music can be a universal resource. It can help an individual who is grieving to process the loss, perhaps by evoking memories of music that reminds you of the beloved. A chill playlist on your phone or tablet can be the perfect way to calm down for 20 minutes when you are stressed, flooded emotionally and need to cool down so you don't lash out at someone you love. Then, when your cooler head prevails, you can productively discuss the issue with the other person involved.

Music is also a creative parenting strategy. Trying to help engage preschoolers with assisting you in cleaning up? Dealing with a grumpy, tired preteen or teenager in your car after school? Looking for subtle ways to lift your mood in the morning? Wanting to create a warm, loving atmosphere at home? Creative use of music can fit beautifully in each of these scenarios. Teens love to school parents while in the car commuting about what kind of music they like, and this is a great way to build a bridge to them emotionally. If little ones are squabbling, drown them out with the score to Hamilton. Music is also a beautiful part of a bedtime routine for parents and younger children.Think outside the box on your selections.

Music reaches us in amazing and deep ways. I can remember as I began my counseling career working with hospice patients, their families and a wonderful music therapist in a hospital and on home visits. Some patients were unresponsive until the music therapist brought out her auto-harp and played hymns or songs they loved as children. Patients who were unresponsive began to move a little or respond in ways that hadn't been seen in days.

I often use art---drawing, painting, collages and art projects--- while working with children and some teens who like creative activity as a way to help them relax and be able to access feelings in counseling sessions.It can make children and  teens less self-conscious while they are sharing.

We know that art, like music, can take you into a deeply relaxed state of mind where you can free up your ability to feel and express emotion. There are places that art and music can take you that words cannot touch. Here's a little art experiment to try on your own for using art to heal.

Find a quiet place where you can work uninterrupted with some paper or canvas art board and some acrylic paint in multiple colors.

Pick two colors to work with to express your feelings.

Paint one area of the canvas to represent something that is negative or difficult in your life now, and that you hold some upset or angry feelings about.

With the second color, paint a place that represents who else is involved in the situation that is upsetting you.

In another place on your canvas, paint about the consequence of this situation that is upsetting to you or that you are holding on to anger about.

Next, consider something in your life that brings you happiness, joy or light in your life right now. Think of something or someone you are grateful for. Paint a section to represent this positive element, person or situation.

If you wish, you can either reflect on what shows up in your painting, or share it with someone you trust.

Both art and music allow us a path into our interior life and access to emotions that might not be reached just with words. In the words of Victor Hugo,"music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." Painter Georgia O'Keefe wrote of making art that, "whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing." Think of creative endeavors with art and music as a tool and a resource to explore what you are feeling, process emotions and help you shift a mood when necessary, in a healthy way.

Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child

Don't we all want to raise children who become problem solvers, empathetic, collaborative and insightful? Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." In the busyness of daily life, it can be challenging not to just handle things yourself as a parent, and remember to involve your children or teens in problem solving with you whenever possible.

Ross W. Green, PhD, has a great new book that can give you examples of how to parent to build these traits in your children. Raising Human Beings: Creating A Collaborative Partnership With Your Child (Scribner, 2016) is the most recent book by Dr. Greene, who taught at Harvard Medical School for twenty years, and now is a founding director of the nonprofit group Lives in the Balance.

Ross Greene suggests we develop collaborative relationships with our children, where we have more influence than control. We need our children's input and feedback to effectively help them solve problems. We need to watch for when our children need help, but not offer it too soon, or preempt the child's ability to learn to solve problems themselves and grow stronger.

We want to be aware of helping our children develop their own identity, separate from ours. We want them to find healthy individuation. When that doesn't happen, Ross coins it "identity foreclosure", which is when a young person doesn't explore their own self-identity, but just blindly accepts the identity defined for them by parents. Instead, we want to support our children in creating identity achievement, where they have a well-defined self-concept and identity. We want them to know who they are as an individual, and what they believe, what they value and where they are going in life.

In parenting, we play a critical role by communicating with our child in a style that can make our influence useful and constructive in their life. We also need to be open to learning about parenting, life and the world through our children's input and unique contributions. If we can be balanced, calm and centered, we are more likely to be able to influence our children positively.

It's normal to have expectations for our children. If they aren't meeting our expectations, Ross suggests we involve the child in defining the problem and brain-storming some solutions. He suggests we remember that children want to do well and generally do well if they can. We have to deal with what we are dealt as parents. Instead of the parent deciding what the problem is alone and solving it alone, we do better if we involve the child whenever possible. As I work in counseling parents do implement Active Parenting, we find this collaborative style works better and gets buy-in from your child. In this book, Ross goes through a number of situations and plays out the parent giving a punishment versus the parent and child solving the problem together which is useful.

Our long-term goal is to build a collaborative, lifelong relationship with our children, and helping them prepare to be problem-solvers themselves. It's interesting to think about your own relationship with your parents when you were growing up. Did you open up to your mom or dad when you had difficulty with something as a child or a teen? If you didn't, it may have been that they were critical, angry, judgmental or anxious. If you did, it's probably because you could count on your mom or dad listening, collaborating, asking you for your thoughts or solutions and being encouraging. Let's be those parents who can be calm and collaborative. I appreciated that the author includes the college years of parenting in a collaborative style as well.

Perhaps no other role in your life will challenge you and polish you up as much as being a parent. No other job you do is ever more important. Playing our part well as parents is key, no matter what child you get. Being open to learning and becoming a positive influence is a pattern of parenting that could become your best legacy to your family. Ross Greene's book may help you get there.

Do Your Friends Actually Like You?

A new research study suggests that only about half of perceived friendships are considered mutual. The misunderstanding could be due to our own optimism or to the limited amount of time most people have for best friends. Either way, it's worth your time to identify your own true friends! Read the New York Times article here for more information on this research.

Being Aware of Your Own Blind Spots

Here is a great tool for understanding more about your blind spots in how you perceive yourself and how you relate to others: it's called Johari's Window. It was developed by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. They combined their first names (ala Brangelina or Kimye) to come up with this name for their concept. It's a useful construct to help each of us become more aware of ourselves and others.

Writer Anais Nin wrote that, "we don't see things as we are, we see things as we are." Luft and Ingham designed Johari's window to help us begin to see ourselves and the people close to us in a more complete way. They constructed four quadrants of perception that are organized to look like a four-paned window. Each of the four sections represents one area of perception. Those areas are:

1. Free/Open- These are bits of information we know about ourselves and everyone else knows about us, too. This would be things that someone walking by could tell: our gender, our age range, eye and hair color. These are facts that are commonly accessible to all.

2. Hidden- This is the information about ourselves that is hidden from others, and only known to ourselves. These are our "secrets."

3. Blind- This is the area of our perception where we each have blind spots, and other people we are in relationship with know some things about us that we don't know ourselves. This is the area where tremendous growth is possible if we are open to learning more about how we are seen and experienced by our partner, our children, our parents, and others we are close to. It is also an area where feedback, if delivered well, can spur us on to be more self-aware.

4. Unknown- This is the area of understanding about things that neither we or those closest to us know about us.

If you wish, you can use the Johari's Window concept to grow yourself and your ability to integrate what those closest to you can tell you about your blind spots. When we become more fully known in a relationship over time, we ideally self-disclose, share more, and hide less of ourself with "secrets." This causes what therapists consider "deepening"of a relationship.
We can also become open to giving and asking for feedback from the intimate other. Feedback should never be given in anger or to relieve tension. The best relationship feedback is specific, descriptive, and non-judgmental. It is focused on the here and now, not the past. Don't give advice to the other person, simply share your perception of their behavior, and how it makes you feel in the relationship with them. Only give feedback if asked.

What a wonderful tool we have to use if we are willing to ask those closest to us from time to time questions like:

When do you feel closest to me emotionally?
When do you feel most disconnected from me?
What behaviors do I do that contribute to you feeling closer? More distant?
How am I doing in my relationship with you?

If we can be undefended about feedback, we can develop to be more loving, available, and connected with those who really matter. It's almost like those we love hold the information about our relational blind spots, and can guide us to become better people if we are open to it.
Perception really is our reality. Johari's Window helps us to see that there are often several realities from a relationship perspective. If we think we are always right, we are probably not taking seriously enough the growth we can make by learning about how we look and how the relationship looks from the other person's view. You might ask for a little feedback this week, and learn a little about yourself. It's a shift that will make you better, more grounded, and real.

Middle School Years Hardest for Moms

The middle school years from grades 6 through 8 are a time of big transition for families as children become teens, deal with the hormonal changes of puberty, and move from an often supportive elementary school setting to the world of middle school where parents aren't as involved at school. A 2016 study of 2,200 mostly well-educated mothers found that mothers of middle school students also struggle. Mothers report more distress and less well-being when their children hit grades 6 to 8. Mothers of infants and grown children are happiest, according to the study, lead by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor and researcher at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Researchers expected to find that mothers of infants are similarly stressed as the levels experienced by mothers of middle-schoolers, but they are not. The University of Arizona's research team believes this might be because infants are exhausting, but are also intensely rewarding to hold and cuddle. Middle-schoolers are usually not as rewarding or cuddly. Their developmental task is beginning to make them seek individuation from parents and push parents away.

Other factors probably also impact parents' levels of satisfaction. Many parents know their children's friends, classmates and a community of other parents and teachers. When the middle school transition begins, students often interact at school with minimal parent involvement, and moms may feel more disconnected as students share less about their world, their school experiences and their friends. A number of the middle school students I see in counseling long for the independence of being dropped off to see a movie or spend time with friends without a parent accompanying them. Parents can suffer a big fall from grace, as the big need that our children had for us in younger years begins to change.

Parents' confidence in their abilities to discipline, influence and communicate with their child all decline in the middle school years. It's important not to buy in to stereotypes about teens which lump them all together as negative. Friendships with other parents of middle school age children and parenting classes can really help mitigate the sense of distress and isolation, as well as normalize the developmental parenting shifts that are happening.

Parents of middle school students need to get support from each other as less emotional rewards come in from their children. It's also important to shift and continue to connect with children, but in different ways. For example, providing space for your teen or preteen to have friends over at your home and provide snacks but remain on the periphery. Continue to reach out to connect with middle- schoolers at dinnertime and in the car, and having them teach you some things when you can.

It's been said that preteens and teens are building a house of self, and that they need to be able to set some boundaries and separation from us in order to feel they are opening and closing the doors in their house.They let us in close at times and close us out at others. It's our job as parents to be there, be loving and interested and not too needy. Keep that in mind when your sweet child asks you to drop them off down the block from their middle school or high school so no one sees you. It's a bittersweet passage that is necessary so they can begin preparing to separate from us and begin those first steps towards becoming their own person.

Honoring Our Dads, Stepdads and Granddads

With Father's Day approaching this Sunday, I think it's time we all pause and reflect to honor good dads everywhere. Many times, Father's Day gets trampled on by Mother's Day, graduations, and spring birthdays. It's just not fair. Fathers and the other important good men in our lives who nurture, develop, inspire and support children, teens, and young adults deserve the spotlight all on their own.

Together, let's reach out to the men in our lives who make a difference, both to us and to our children, because they suit up, show up, and do the right thing. These are the good men who show us that women do not corner the market on nurturing and supporting others. They might be our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, or family friends. What they have in common is taking a loving concern for the young people in their lives, and doing all they can to be a positive male influence. We salute you. You make a huge difference.

Men and women are different, and we provide children and young adults with different things. I often think of it as women bringing children INTO the world and men taking children OUT into the world, helping them launch into the adult world, separate from their mother, and become a successful adult. All our lives, we benefit from having a positive, kind male role model we respect and can turn to for advice. It's not that you can't succeed without that support; it just makes it so much easier. It gives you a firm foundation. You have someone to ask about the exclusively male perspective on life, and ask for their input or guidance.

Good dads stay connected to their children, whether or not they are still married to that child's mother. They stay involved and actively engaged with their child or children all their lives. We hope that our marriages endure, but the parent-child relationship must endure all your life. In research by the Center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley, California, Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., and her team has done the longest study to date on outcomes for children of divorce. One of the worst things that can possibly happen to children in their parents' divorce is that their father disengages, in terms of emotional support, time, and financial support. I often caution parents I counsel not to do this. Parents who love their children stay involved, no matter what.

Grandfathers, stepfathers, and uncles can all be critically important roles, defined by who plays the role and how you play it. It's messy to get involved. You have to give---time, attention, listening, support. You can receive incredible rewards by becoming a positive male influence. You might be the only chance a particular child in your life has to know a honest, kind, nurturing, grounded man. Both girls and boys need the positive male adult energy to have successful careers and relationships later on.

This week, give some affirmation and applause to the good men in your life who nurtured and supported you, or who give that love and positive male role modeling to your children. Stand-up guys are sometimes taken for granted, but they really shouldn't be. Strong, kind, loyal and devoted men are an incredible blessing, both to good women and to building a wonderful next generation. We honor you for defining what a good man is really like.

New York Times Article: Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

An essay by writer/philosopher Alain De Botton from last Sunday's New York Times has great relationship advice with a healthy amount of skepticism about finding one right partner, and a realistic view about learning how to become mature, flexible and negotiate differences gracefully. Read the article here!