Between Mothers and Daughters

What is it about the mother/daughter relationship that makes it often so intense, whether intensely positive or negative? Why are women rarely neutral about their bond with their mothers?

One recent study of family relationship based on cell phone bills showed that for most older women, their most frequent daily calls were with their daughter, if they had one.

When I ask women in individual or couples counseling about the "life script" they got from their mother, useful information emerges. As an adult woman, the more you can understand about your mother, the more you can grow to understand about yourself. It is important to look behind the "mask" of the mother role. Understanding the woman she is---her background, her growing up years, her beliefs, and her relationships, may shed a great deal of light on how she mothered you.

Your own life may build from a foundation of her values, fears, and beliefs; or your life may be, in part, a reaction to your mother's. For example, a woman may react strongly to her mother playing a voiceless/childlike role with her husband, and in the daughter's own marriage she may be quite focused on not being taken advantage of.

In examining the life script you received about being a woman, consider the family your mother came from. Was she born into an advantaged or disadvantaged family? How many siblings were there to compete with for parental attention? Was the family stable, or did she deal with a great deal of change and instability? Were the children nurtured by anyone? What hopes and dreams did she have for her own life? Did she benefit from a good education, or is she a self-made woman? What are her beliefs about men, marriage, raising children, faith, and a woman's role in the family? How did she appear to you as a child? Was she joyful or joyless? Was she a strong woman, or a martyr?

The fit between your temperament and your mother's is an important factor in determining how close you are to her. Stella Chess, MD, has done extensive research to determine the factor of "goodness of fit" between a child's temperament and a parent's temperament. If it is not a very natural fit (for example if a daughter is very unstructured and spontaneous, while the mother is extremely structured and planned), then the mother's ability to accept the child's natural temperament, rather than "declare war" on it, is a critical factor in creating a loving, positive mother/daughter bond.

It has been said that it is primarily in the mother-child relationship that we learn how to love and be loved. What an incredible responsibility it is to be what psychologist Bruno Bettelheim termed a "good enough mother." A mother doesn't have to be perfect. Admitting your own mistakes, apologizing as needed, recognizing and honoring your daughter's own unique strengths and gifts, listening, and spending time together in enjoyable activities, are sure ways to strengthen a mother/daughter relationship.

What if you don't like the script you got from your mother? Then, as you become consciously aware of what her script was for you, you may choose to selectively rewrite it, just like a playwright rewrites a script. Writer Pam Finger says,"You do not have to be your mother unless she is who you want to be. You do not have to be your mother's mother, or even your grandmother's mother on your father's side. You may inherit their chins or their hips or their eyes, but you are not destined to become the women who came before you. You are not destined to live their lives.So if you inherit something, inherit their resilience. The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."

There can be difficult aspects of the mother/daughter relationship. Because we share our gender, mothers can impose strong messages about roles and relationships, even our relationship with our own body. Sometimes as mothers age, they have unresolved feelings stirred up by their daughters emerging into adulthood and asserting themselves. Developmentally, it is healthy for daughters in their teens and twenties to push back and reject some of who their mother is. Mothers need to stay grounded, patient, and give up control, as it is appropriate. (She may be back closer to you later in life). Some daughters sense a feeling of competitiveness between themselves and their mother.  A mother may have unrealized hopes and dreams for her younger self that she may project on her daughter.

As an emotionally mature woman of any age, it is possible to come to peace with your relationship with your mother. You can decide how you are like her, and in what ways you are different. You can determine what the boundary can safely be between the two of you. You can choose what you wish to ask of her and what you would like to give her.

Through our relationship with our mother, we can look behind us into our past. With our mother, we see our emotional roots and her roots with the woman who raised her. Through our relationship with our daughters, we can look into the future and see our dreams for them. We can anticipate the ways in which they will need to do this same sifting process of positive and negative scripts with us in time.

A key to coming to peace with your relationship with your mother is to begin to view her not just in her role as your mother, but as a woman in her own context. This shift helps to equalize the power between adult daughter and mother. When you make this shift, you can be free to construct a different relationship with your mother, being aware of your history with her, accepting what love and stability she can provide, and begin the lifelong task of "mothering" yourself.

Recently, I have been organizing closets at home, and ran across some heartfelt notes and drawings that my daughters made for me when there were little, and it touched me deeply. Children grow up and launch, but the enduring closeness between mothers and daughters, when it works, is among life's sweetest blessings. This week as we approach Mother's Day, I honor all those who seek to nurture, encourage, and mother to the best of their ability. It's a big job, but with the potential for great meaning. Mothering can be one of life's most transformational and complex experiences.

Family Therapy: Still Effective After All These Years

Times change, but family therapy has stayed relevant for families over time. Family therapy is empirically supported and clinically effective. Clients report marked improvements in relationships, functioning and emotional health. In the April 18, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, one reporter shares her own recent experience in family therapy. Read the Time article here.

When You Don't Get What You Want

Character is shaped and defined in the times in our lives when we don't get what we want. Part of being human is dealing with loss and disappointment. Whether you don't get in to the college of your choice, or your spouse dies prematurely, or your plans don't work out for a job, grad school, a relationship, loss is a part of our lives. There is usually no way to avoid it. All risks- including good ones, involve the potential of it not working out.

Learning how to feel and express the pain of the loss, including the sadness, anger, hurt, confusion and disappointment is healthy. Later, learning how to process the loss and grow through what happens is key to growing emotionally.

Have you ever noticed the differences in people you know who have survived and thrived despite difficulty and loss?

There are some qualities I really like that people are more likely to develop if they run into some setbacks and loss in their lives. These include being grateful rather than entitled, compassion for others, resiliency and developing perspective about what's really important. These are the unexpected gifts of working through not getting what you want.

When we can learn to stop blaming others, we grow.

When we learn to accept disappointment, work through the feelings and redirect our course and go on, we become resilient and inspire others.

When we understand loss, we develop a reverence for how fragile our lives are and appreciative for the people who truly matter.

When we realize that it is things not working out that can shapes our character, we can be made gentler and more tenderized by our experiences. We can become more sensitive to the struggles of others.

Loss, disappointment and not getting what we want are all teachers if we receive the lessons. Poet and philosopher Mark Nepo writes in his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen (Simon and Schuster, 2012) that, "Sooner or later, everyone will face not getting what they want. How we respond to this unavoidable moment determines how much peace or agitation we will have in our lives. This is the moment that opens all others, for our acceptance of things as they are and not as would have them allows us to find our place in the stream of life. Free of our entitlements, we can discover that we are small fish in the stream and go about finding the current."

Not getting what you want? That makes you normal, and possibly better, if you let it.
 

Connections With Grandparents Stabilize Teens

It's rough being a teenager, but having a loving, involved grandparent really helps teens smoothly transition through these turbulent years. While teens are busy individuating and separating from parents as they need to do developmentally, grandparents can be a safe place to attach emotionally. Teens with close, loving relationships with a grandparent are likely to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than teens without that attachment.

A recent study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel surveyed 1,405 teens ages 12 to 18, involved in a larger study. Teens who enjoyed a close relationship with both their parents and grandparents experienced the lowest amount of adjustment difficulties on questionnaires measuring hyperactivity, and emotional distress like excessive worrying, social skills problems, fighting and bullying. The study was published this past year in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry online.

While grandparents have long been considered by family therapists as a help to teens who are having conflict with one or both parents, this study suggests that there are benefits to teens of being close to grandparents even when the teen is well connected with parents. Teens who were securely attached to both parents and grandparents had the least problems. Being close to grandparents didn't seem to help as much if the teens weren't close to their own parents. For teens who indicated a moderate or a strong bond with their parent, the close relationship with a grandparent played an increasingly strong role in decreasing adjustment difficulties.

In my counseling practice, I always encourage people to make the most of the relationship they can have with their grandchildren and other young people. Being a grandparent is one of those interesting roles in life that is highly variable. You can make much of your emotional contribution to the role or none, it's up to your willingness and your adult children's openness to having you involved. If you don't have children or grandchildren, consider reaching out to other teens who may need your stabilizing influence and loving concern.

I can remember my parents' house being a wonderful haven for our children when they were teens; a great place to learn to cook, do art, try gardening, watch classic movies or go for a swim with Gram and Gramps. As it works out, research backs up my observations that grandparents and teenaged grandchildren can provide meaningful connections to each other and memories that can last a lifetime. It's good to be needed.

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?

Do you respond more intensely to experiences than the average person might? Do you cry easily? About 20% of the population fits into the category of being a highly sensitive person (HSP). This trait is distributed pretty equally among men and women. HSP is different from introversion, although both can get overstimulated and need to retreat at times. It's believed that sensitivity may run along a spectrum, like some other traits, from low to high. This is not a disorder, but a trait which tends to be permanent over one's lifespan.

HSP was first identified in the 1990's by research psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron. HSP is also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity. The Arons developed a 27-item scale to assess for being highly sensitive, which you can take online at http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/.  Here are a few sample items:

Other people's moods affect me.

I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics or sirens close by.

I have a rich, complex inner life.

I am deeply moved by the arts or music.

I am conscientious.

I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.

Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.

Changes in my life shake me up.

When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

Highly sensitive people show brain scan differences in their neural activity, as compared to non-HSPs. Those with this feature are more empathetic, pay close attention to the environment and non-verbal cues from other people. A study at University of California, Santa Barbara published in the Journal of Brain and Behavior in April 2014, demonstrated that people identified as HSP have more neural activity in parts of the brain when looking at the face of a loved one than people with an average level of sensitivity.

People with HSP are believed to have a deeper depth of cognitive processing. They can get overwhelmed, be more aware of emotional subtleties and have stronger emotional responses than others do. HSPs are well-suited professionally to work as counselors, teachers, artists, pastors and writers.

There are liabilities that come with being an HSP, too. They can be easily hurt. They can get exhausted from people and too much stimuli. HSPs can be vulnerable to stress. Dr. Arthur Aron, research professor at Stony Brook University in New York and visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley acknowledges that HSPs can get easily overwhelmed and that they tend to process information more deeply than others.

In relationships, both HSPs and their partners need to be aware of the sensitivity. The highly sensitive person can learn to identify when they are a needing a time out during disagreements with their partner or when overwhelmed. HSPs need to do extreme self-care, being certain to eat healthily, sleep well, and get downtime to relax. HSPs must appreciate that their partner probably processes events and experiences differently, and appreciate the differences.

People who are partnered with an HSP are best to never say "calm down." It's best if you are not critical, and validate your partner's feelings. Telling an HSP partner that they are making a big deal out of something won't help. Be supportive, and express that you understand what they are feeling.

Being a highly sensitive person can be both a gift and a burden. Understanding yourself as an HSP or your HSP partner is of critical importance for a well-balanced, happy life and relationship.

Being Known: The Seven Levels of Intimacy


Matthew Kelly wrote the classic relationship book The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved. The book is simply written, easy to read, and has some really interesting ways to begin thinking differently about some of your closest relationships.
Kelly believes that the purpose of the healthiest close relationships is to help you become your best self, and encouraging people that you love to evolve, develop, and become their best selves as well. If you are in the right primary relationship, it should be challenging you some. We want to spur each other's development along to become the best version of ourselves.

Intimacy isn't needed in all relationships. We all do better, though, if we have real intimacy in some of our relationships. Intimacy takes mutual disclosure and self-revelation. Lower levels of intimacy are fine with people you don't know well or want to get close to, but with people you want to go deeper with the lower levels of intimacy are just a warm-up.

Here are Kelly's seven levels of intimacy:

1. Cliches: at this level, we are having flat, brief conversations with others, with very little disclosure or significance. Think of how most people interact with the grocery clerk. It's boring, monotonous, and repetitive. An example would be asking how work was and getting the reply "fine." These are fine conversation starters and may be appropriate with strangers, but are unsatisfying if this is the level your closest relationships stay at. If you hang out in clichés, it's a sure fire way to avoid intimacy.

2. Just the Facts: We discuss sports, current events, the stock market, weather, celebrity gossip,and what we did today. It's safe to discuss facts. It pretty much guarantees that there won't be conflict. Facts are usually impersonal.

3. Opinion: You don't have to make yourself vulnerable at all to announce your opinions. It can lead to conflict. Arguments can occur here which reveal a lack of maturity, inability to transcend self and empathize with another's view, and a shortage of self-awareness. Getting stuck on this level can cause disagreements, demonstrate a lack of a common goal, and cause people to downshift back into clichés and facts. As we mature, we should be able to agree to disagree and to accept differences.

4. Hopes and Dreams: Sharing our vision for our life, what we are hoping to accomplish and experience is far more personal, and takes us deeper with the other person. We need to feel fairly safe to do this. I can't imagine sharing my hopes and dreams with anyone who I experience as critical and judgmental. Revealing your dreams and learning about those of the other person charges the relationship with energy. Building a dream together with an intimate other is a powerful connection between you. Dreams give our lives focus and purpose.

5. Feelings: Going beyond facts and events to share the more personal elements of how you feel about your life, your day, your work, your relationships, will take you still deeper into knowing and being known. One catch is that you have to be able to identify your own feelings before you can share them. You can deepen a close relationship by asking about how the other person feels. Listen intently from the heart. It takes being willing to be vulnerable to share feelings, but that's where all the good stuff is in relationships. It's a risk, but what is life without a little risk?

6. Faults, Fears and Failures: You don't have to be perfect to be loved or loving. It is in sharing our misadventures, mistakes and mess-ups that people often feel closer to us. These flaws make us real.  Kelly describes this level of intimacy as emotional nakedness. if we can take down our guard at this level with those we are closest to, we help them also feel safe to reveal more. It's a mutual thing. Asking for help also comes in here. Being able to put down your pride and admit mistakes also allows the other person to be imperfect. We all have fears and a shadow self. It's normal.

7. Legitimate Needs/Dynamic Collaboration:  We all have legitimate needs in the four aspects of life: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Expressing your legitimate needs and asking to understand those of the other person leads you into a thriving relationship. The highest level of relationships require that you also have the heart to try to help meet the other person's needs. There shouldbe both people giving and receiving. The needs must be legitimate, not superficial, manipulative or unrealistic.

Kelly also has a lot of valuable tools to suggest to making relationships intentionally closer. He suggests creating unstructured time together, which he calls carefree timelessness. It might just be spending a day with someone you love and doing whatever you both feel like. He encourages giving up criticizing others, and avoiding gossip. He suggests we be mindful of the words we choose and that we practice self-discipline and forgiveness.

The Seven Levels of Intimacy is a wonderful gem of a book. It will inspire you to be better, love more, go deeper, and be more aware of what you are co-creating with others. Not only will it help you learn how to develop more meaningful relationships, but it will also inspire those of you who are parents about how to help teach your children to creating intimate relationships in a healthy way.

Dean Koontz: From a Difficult Childhood to a Meaningful Life

Dean Koontz has written over one hundred novels and is one of America's top suspense thriller writers. Fourteen of his hardcovers and fourteen of his paperbacks have reached the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller list. While I've enjoyed several of his books and knew that he was living here in Orange County, California, I didn't know anything about his own personal story until I heard him do a live interview last Thursday evening at the Orange County Register. His life is quite a story itself.

Koontz was remarkably open and vulnerable at his OC Register interview. He shared about being born in 1945 to become the only child of his parents. He grew up incredibly poor in a small town in Pennsylvania. He was close to his mother, who died when he was just 21. 

Koontz' father was alcoholic, mentally ill and unstable. He lost over 30 jobs, and the family went through great hardship. He remembers his father being the town drunk. He was unfaithful with multiple women. Raymond Koontz was abusive to both he and his mother. Dean recalls his mother standing up to his father courageously despite her diminutive height.

Senior year in college, Koontz won a fiction competition sponsored by Atlantic Monthly. After college, he taught school in Pennsylvania and worked and became frustrated with the Appalachian Poverty Program, designed to help poor children. Koontz saw flaws in the program and ways in which the money didn't reach the population it was intended to help.

Koontz married his high school girlfriend Gerda, to whom he is still married and who he deeply admires. He spoke about modeling strong heroines in his books after Gerda and his mother. It reminded me how writers often write what they know. He and Gerda negotiated him leaving teaching for five years while she would support him as he wrote full-time. It worked out very well, and he has been writing more than 60 hours a week ever since.

Dean and Gerda Koontz didn't have children. A biography about him poses that they feared his father's mental illness might be inherited. They do have a great love for golden retrievers. While Koontz researched a guide dogs for the disabled for his novel "Midnight" he became acquainted with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). The non-profit let him observe how they extensively train service dogs, as he was writing a character that had one into the book. Through their involvement with CCI, the couple adopted Trixie, a golden retriever who had been through most of their training, but didn't quite make it. Dean wrote a book as a tribute to Trixie after she died of cancer in 2007. The book was called A Big Little Life: The Memoir of A Joyful Dog. When I spoke with him afterwards at the book signing, he said he still misses Trixie every day.

The Koontz family has donated millions of dollars to CCI to continue their work. Several of his books donate all profits to the group. At his live interview, Koontz shared how some years back he was the president of a writer's group where he got lots of phone calls daily with complaints from writers about publishers and agents. After a long weekend away at CCI, observing people with no use of their arms or legs happily being trained to use guide dog assistance, he came home and resigned from his role with the writer's group. He couldn't believe the contrast.

Since Trixie's death, the Koontz family have adopted Anna, a grand-niece of Trixie, who almost completed the CCI training, but had a fascination for chasing birds that made her a better pet than service dog.

Koontz also shared something intriguing he found out about his parentage. He found an article saved by his parents that explained about an artificial insemination medical research project done using poor families from his area in Pennsylvania about the time he was born. He decided not to do DNA testing with his father before his death, as he decided it didn't matter to him. It remains a personal mystery for the mystery writer.

As a family therapist, I am always interested in family of origin stories. The personal story behind Dean Koontz is one of perseverance, gentleness and transcendence. Despite coming from an unstable father with alcoholism and abuse, he has created a strong marriage and a meaningful, thriving career in writing that he continues to work at full-time at age 70. Koontz and his wife are creating a lasting legacy through their support of CCI to help disabled people live a more full life, one dog at a time.

The script that you are given in childhood doesn't have to be what you live out as an adult. We can choose to take the best part of our childhood backgrounds and revise the rest. You can have an unstable or abusive parent and choose to develop loving relationships and attach securely to others despite what you experienced in your family. It's been meaningful to me to work with many individuals over the past twenty-five years as a therapist to better understand the themes and patterns in their family of origin and rewrite the way they live their lives and the kind of relationships they create. If we understand our family history, we can learn to lead a more conscious life going forward.

Childhood is just where your story begins. It's doesn't need to predict your future.
 

The Gift Of Listening

I laughed so much about this little video clip when I first saw it. It's Not About the Nail beautifully illustrates the concept that most women want to be heard by their partner, but really don't need them to take over and solve the problem for them. Women often feel more heard and understood to have a partner do reflective or active listening and repeat back, in different words, what they are saying. 

This is the concept behind John Gray's books about the differences between genders and communication style. He wrote the very popular book Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus in 1992. If men can be aware of this difference, they can check in and clarify with their partner whether they want to vent and get empathy, or whether they want solutions. In general, I recommend not offering solutions to people unless they ask you for them.

I've done some training for couples counselors that provides a listener's continuum, a spectrum of options that help people identify where they are in their own progress as a listener. Many people would rather have you keep it to yourself, others start to argue and defend their own point of view, or try to alleviate the tension they feel by trying to fix things. (In this video clip, it's when he wants to pull out the nail).

Better listeners give feedback about the feelings the other person is conveying, ask questions to deepen their understanding of you, remain calm, don't take things personally, and stay curious about the other person. When you respond with empathy and compassion, the other person naturally wants to open up more to you. When you start arguing and defending, or solving the other person's problem, you will notice that the other person shuts down.

Most people don't listen very well. Children notice that their parents don't listen, or multitask, or only notice if they act up. Many people stop talking but are busily preparing their rebuttal, making a grocery list or thinking of what else they have to do later that day. If every child and teen could have someone in their lives who really listened, deeply from the heart, we could create powerful positive change in our turbulent world.

To be truly listened to, and understood, feels wonderful. Truly slowing down to listen from the heart is one of the best presents you can give or receive. If we are sensitive to our role as a listener, we can give our partner, and our children, one of the best gifts we can offer in this busy, distracted world of ours. You could be that listener for one young person.

As the poet and author Mark Nepo writes in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, "Listening is the closest we come to living forever. Close your eyes and inhale, slowly. Exhale slowly. Inhale slowly and realize that your life will unfold between the appointments you know of and the appointments you will discover along the way. Open your eyes and exhale slowly, saying yes as you begin."

The Thankful Heart: Cultivating the Gratitude Attitude

Don't you love to be around people who demonstrate an attitude of gratitude in their lives? As the season moves towards Thanksgiving, what a perfect time to reflect on what is right and good in our relationships, and our lives as a whole. At times I think we can overfocus on what we don't have in our lives that we want, and be largely oblivious to all the blessings.

It is important to thank people for the good things they do for you. No one likes to be taken for granted. Most adults, teens, and children that I have talked with about their personal lives this last 25 years in counseling feel wildly under-appreciated and under-encouraged. Parents are aften blown away with the positive response from their teens, for example, when they start noticing what their teens are doing that they appreciate.

Being grateful with your partner is important, too. What does your partner do that makes your life easier, more secure, healthier, or more fun? Your expressed appreciation will engender more loving feelings in the relationship, and help them to feel seen by you, not like they are part of the wallpaper. If your partner adds to your life, wouldn't you want them to know it, and have them do more of the things that hit the target with you?

I always share with teens that parents respond to encouragement and gratefulness from them as well. As a parent, it means so much to get feedback from your child that the effort you put into something made a difference to them.

Expressing sincere gratefulness is using your personal power to create good. You never know what it might mean to someone else. Think about the last person to express gratefulness to you. When was that? Who was it? I bet you remember.

Gratefulness can reframe the way you look at your day, your week, and your life. When you stop to consider the other people whose lives touch yours, you can spread the gratefulness around.

Think of all the people you could express thanks to... teachers, wait staff, your parents, your children, co-workers, people who work for you, friends. Don't assume other people read your mind, because they don't.
There are numerous studies that demonstrate employee morale and retention is also greatly improved by workers feeling valued and that their efforts and contributions are acknowledged. Extend your grateful appreciation to your workplace.
In the busy whirlwind of life, slowing down to make sure the people who make your life better know how you feel is especially significant. In these days before Thanksgiving, it's a perfect time to get your heart in the right place, and voice your feelings about what others do that means the most to you. Having a grateful attitude makes you a keeper. Even if there are lots or challenges, focusing on the blessings creates more mental health and well-being.

Open your heart to expressing your gratitude and have a beautiful Thanksgiving week. Life is so fragile, don't let your appreciation go unspoken.
 

Deal Breakers in Dating Relationships

What really turns you off to someone new?  Consider what you can not see yourself getting past with a potential partner. Would it be selfishness? Being rude to wait staff at the restaurant? Monopolizing the conversation so that you can hardly speak? Maybe you avoid people who are arrogant or inconsiderate.

Apparently, according to recent studies, most people find the qualities of laziness and being disheveled to be two of the top deal breakers when it comes to potential dates. After these two qualities, there are some differences in how women and men see potential dating partners and what turns people off.

Recent research on deal breakers in dating was published in the October 2015 online version of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which incorporated studies done by Western Sydney University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, Singapore Management University and Rutgers University. The Wall Street Journal featured their results in its' November 3, 2015 edition.

Researchers found women have more deal breakers than men do. Everyone has more deal breakers with a long-term relationship than a short-term one. People who consider themselves "a good catch" have more deal breakers as well. There are theories relating to evolutionary biology about why women tend to be more selective than men. Perhaps women are hard-wired to want a partner who is confident and intelligent enough to support her if she bears children.

The researchers administered a list of 17 negative personal traits to 5,541 single American adults. Each individual identified the traits they would consider deal breakers. "Disheveled/unclean" ranked number one for both genders, followed by "lazy" and "too needy".

Women ranked "lacks a sense of humor" as a bigger concern than men did. Men were concerned by women who "talk too much"  or with "a low sex drive". In long-term partner choices, both genders found anger issues, not being trustworthy, health issues and not being exclusive as deal breakers.

In the studies, here's how the rankings of turn offs broke down by gender:

Disheveled: A deal breaker for 63% of the men and 72% of the women

Lazy: A deal breaker for 60% of men and 72% of women

Too Needy: A deal breaker for 57% of men and 69% of women

No Sense of Humor: A deal breaker for 50% of men and 58% of women

Lives far away (more than 3 hours): A deal breaker for 52% of men and 48% of women

Lacks Confidence: A deal breaker for 33% of men and 47% of women

Too Much TV/Videogames: A deal breaker for 25% of men and 41% of women

Stubborn: A deal breaker for 32% of men and 34% of women

Talks Too Much: A deal breaker for 26% of men and 20% of women

Too Quiet: A deal breaker for 11% of men and 17% of women

It's important to identify and think through your own relationship deal breakers. You want to be reasonable, and not overly rigid. (Perhaps your wonderful partner will come with a cat or dog you hadn't planned on.) It is perfectly okay and valid to know yourself well enough to know what you just can't compromise on. Dating enough before settling down to do your due diligence and learn about yourself and what you can and can't bend on is key.

Even once you find the right partner, this might be a useful list for taking inventory of yourself in your primary relationship from time to time. Being the right partner is just as important as finding the right partner. Exercising self awareness and taking responsibility for being an interesting, confident, flexible, motivated, well groomed and relational partner is always a plus. 

What Causes Shyness?

Shyness is easy to observe, but hard to define. It is sometimes described as being self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations, especially with new people. Those who are shy are often self-critical of their behaviors in social settings; shy people tend to focus on what they feel they do wrong, and project negative past experiences onto current and future ones.

There are various theories about how shyness develops: parent modeling, the relationship with the same sex parent who may have been anxious, critical, rejecting, or restrictive, difficulty attaching to a parent securely in early childhood, and a negative attributional style where individuals expect negative outcomes and feel they have very little control over outcomes.

Most shy people engage in negative self-talk. This is the equivalent of a pessimistic radio channel that's always on in your head, telling you to be anxious about new situations, because they are likely to go poorly. Socially anxious people tend to reject positive feedback about their social behaviors, and accept only negative feedback. Shy individuals often attribute social failures as having to do with something inside the self.

Genetic and neurological factors have also been linked to shyness. Studies have shown physiological and neurological differences between shy and non-shy preschoolers in how they process emotion. There was significantly more brain activity in the right anterior part of the brain (as measured by EEG) when shy children were exposed to video clips that elicit fear and sadness, as compared to non-shy peers.

When does shyness peak? Usually right around age 18, correlating with the end of high-school and launching into college, adult life, and leaving the social comfort of home. Some young adults really benefit to having some counseling support at this pivotal time, as a young adult engages in the task of creating a new social support system beyond parents and high school. It can be a time where young adults often feel especially lonely and/or vulnerable. There are shy college students for whom acclimating into the second semester or second year will naturally help in overcoming shyness, resolving their “situational shyness.” There are others who are likely to become consistently shy and lonely in what is known as “dispositional shyness.”

There are also gender differences in shyness. Studies show that shyness in young men is more likely to delay romantic relationships and increase their physical aggressiveness. In young women, shyness can inhibit same-sex interactions, or interactions between women, more than it does for shy men in relating to other guys. Shy men tend to avoid eye contact and not initiate social interaction with others. Women are more likely to experience difficulty concentrating due to socially triggered anxiety.

Shy individuals can benefit from intervention and support from a therapist. The most common approaches that a therapist can use to decrease shyness are cognitive-behavioral therapy (addressing negative automatic thoughts that restrict social behaviors), systematic desensitization (helping a shy client take gradual steps to increase their exposure to social situations while using coping skills to reduce anxiety), and skills training (which includes assertion and the use of positive self-talk).

While shyness sounds simple, it really isn't. There can be multiple causes, including one's relationship with their parents, extroversion/introversion, role modeling, insecure attachments in early childhood, genetic/biological predisposition, situational/stage of life factors, as well as the way we talk with ourselves about our ability to change other people's perceptions of us through challenging our own shy behaviors. Shyness, if not dealt with, can persist and impact an individual's quality of life and level of happiness.

How to Tell Your Kids You're Getting a Divorce

Children need to know what is happening in their family: here's how to have that difficult conversation you don't want to have. Read a recent Orange County Register article on telling your children about divorce here.

"Wasn't Expecting That": Treasuring Your Partner

The poet Mark Nepo speaks about splashing your partner with love. It's a beautiful image. What if we lived every day with the awareness that we need to celebrate and appreciate our partner? What if we were conscious of the passing of time and intentional about savoring the joy available in the little details of life together as a couple or as a family?

Over the last 25 years, I've done grief counseling with many individuals who've lost their life partner. It's made me reflect on all that is to be learned from a strong, long-term marriage. If only we could each take a lesson on love from people who've endured such a loss.

I was touched by this short video clip of English singer/songwriter Jamie Lawson of his song, Wasn't Expecting That. This sweet song sets the right tone for focusing on appreciating your partner while you can. Whether you have 10 years together or 60, the same rules apply. Here are a few of the things I've learned from individuals and couples over the years about making your partnership extraordinary:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff. Most stuff in daily life is the small stuff. Don't be petty. Exercise more restraint instead.

2. Be fun to live with. Dr. Phil asked people on his show, "How much fun are you to live with?" Choose to be a beneficial presence in your relationship and your family, not difficult or cranky.

3. Stay curious about your partner. Don't assume things. Each of you keeps growing and changing, so you will never fully know each other. Enjoy the ever evolving mystery.

4. Express your feelings.

5. Be strong enough to be vulnerable. Own it when you are feeling needy, tired, moody, worried, sad or difficult.

6. Ask for what you really, really want. Don't settle for a mediocre relationship.

7. Follow through. Do what you say you will be doing. Show your partner they can trust you because you live life in an honorable way.

8. Express your gratitude.

9. Treat your partner even better than you do your dearest friends.

10. Make yourself available to spend time together. Enjoy high energy fun together.

11. Freely admit when you mess up.

12. Share in life's work. Don't under-function at home so that your partner feels burdened and overwhelmed. Many tasks are more fun together, like cooking, gardening, or washing dishes.

13. Protect your relationship by setting clear boundaries. Don't confide in friends or family about your relationship concerns. Be brave and go direct, or go together to couples counseling with an emotionally focused therapist if you get stuck. Don't keep secrets that could jeopardize your relationship.

14. See the good in your partner. Shine a light on it. Comment on it. There are numerous studies that show that the happiest couples see each other in a consistently favorable light, even better than they are. Try to see your partner's good intentions when possible. Don't be the critic. Build up and encourage your partner's best self when you see it.

15. Try to see it their way. I'm always encouraged with people in couples counseling when they can demonstrate genuine empathy for how their partner might be feeling.  There are often several right perspectives on things, not just yours. Demonstrating empathy and compassion for your partner is a sign of emotional maturity. It means you can transcend self.

16. Use loving touch and affection. Hug and kiss hello and goodbye each day. These are part of the thousand little threads of connection between you. Cuddle. Hold hands. Give your partner a backrub when they are stressed. Both men and women like to have their partner initiate affection, so don't get stuck in gender roles on this one. Call each other when you are apart. Write love letters.

17. Don't get so wrapped up in raising the children that you forget the sacredness of spending some time focusing on just the two of you.

18. Take responsibility for making yourself interesting and happy and splashing it out on your partner. Don't expect your partner to make you happy. It's an inside job.

19. Learn to disagree respectfully. It's been said that every marriage has a couple unsolvable problems, and what counts is how you discuss it. Fight fairly. You each have your own brain and will see some things differently. This is normal.

20. Embrace your differences. You are different people and we raised in different families with their own patterns and traditions. You will likely have unique interests. This keeps the relationship interesting, especially if you support each other's individual interests. Actor Paul Newman and actress Joanne Woodward were a great example of this. She loved the ballet while he liked to race cars as a hobby. They loved each other deeply for 50 years before Paul's death, but could individuate from each other.

Life goes very quickly. We are each more fragile than we realize. Make it your intention to really focus, breathe and take in the joy of day to day life with your partner and your family. Like in the Jamie Lawson song, it will end one day when you don't expect it. Go for an extraordinary relationship starting today.You want to ensure that you have wonderful, sweet memories left behind. Splash some love and happiness around generously now while you can.

When Your Adult Children Need Limits

Imagine if you had children and nurtured them, but they grew up to be adults and treated you badly on a consistent basis. What if your adult children used, abused, and dumped on you? Are they calling and telling you all their problems? Depending on you financially long after they should be independent? Still beating you up about their (long over) childhood? Now is the time to set some new, healthier boundaries and expectations.

You would end a friendship or love relationship with another adult who consistently treated you badly. We can have blind spots with our adult children where we allow mistreatment and emotional abuse we wouldn't accept from anyone else. Some adult children necessitate you taking back your own personal power, and stepping away from enabling their bad or weak behavior.You don't want to be codependent with your adult child's emotional immaturity.

What if your adult child blames you for all their unhappiness? Certainly I believe in apologizing for any mistakes you made, but enough is enough at some point. Some adult children get "stuck" in the blame or victim role and can't move along. Maybe they are well into adult years now, and have had more years on their own then you did raising them. You may have to set some limits about how far and long the blaming goes on. They might be enjoying the secondary gains of not moving on, rather than beginning to do the hard work of taking responsibility for building their own positive, productive life now.

Parents can be manipulated by their adult children, as they get their guilt buttons pushed. It is important to set your own limits about what you are and are not willing to do. You may be willing to help with finances for a limited amount of time. You may not want them to move in with you and become a child again in an open-ended way. It may be better to help them with a specific cost, such as educational expenses, or help with their own rent for a specific amount of time that has an ending. You may be happy to speak by phone or spend time together, but have aprepared exit strategy if a pleasant interaction turns abusive or toxic. You may not be willing to stay with them if it is upsetting each time. Shorter visits may be preferable.

You may have to give your adult child some space if they are misusing you. Call less often. Meet up at a neutral location, such as a restaurant for a meal. Prepare a broken record response if they begin to verbally attack you, such as, "I understand that you are unhappy with how your life is going, but this isn't going to help." You may be willing to help your adult child in a time-limited fashion, if they are taking demonstrable steps to help themselves. You may want to reframe by asking them what they think they can do to create a positive change in their life. You could also redirect the conversation to something else. You could not be immediately available at all times. Give less: time, attention, financial support.

Explain that it puts you in an awkward position if they repeatedly call you to bash their partner. It may be healthier to redirect them to talk directly to their partner, and not triangulate you in the middle, or see a therapist. This is changing your own dance steps. You are not a dumping ground or a doormat. Realize that to be someone else's doormat, you do have to lie down (be passive and allow it).

You have certain rights as a person, too. When you had children, you didn't give up your need for personal dignity or respect. You have a right to move closer emotionally to people who treat you well and are supportive. Put more distance between yourself and people, including your adult children, who mistreat you. You have a right to peace, and not being anybody's emotional punching bag. Some adult children have elevated and unrealistic expectations about you always being at their service. You are a part of the problem if you enable their bad or weak behavior. Your own health will suffer if you don't set boundaries.

Having children can be an incredible blessing. As your children become adults themselves, it is essential to shift gears in the parent-child relationship. You love them, but you also have firm and clear limits about what you will and won't do, and what behaviors you cannot accept or encourage. Being respectful of others and requiringrespect back from others is something that only you can do.

It's a healthy response to develop the backbone to not be an enabler. This is reworking your part of the parent-child dance, doing your best to help your adult son or daughter stop blaming, and start addressing the issues in their own life. This takes strength, but it's really the most loving and helpful thing you can do for your adult child: loving them, but stepping away from the drama, setting firm limits, and not feeding the problem. Maybe you're still parenting, but shifting to an appropriate stance for your adult child's situation, and encouraging their strength, health, and emotional growth.

Please Settle Things Down: What Your Children Want You to Know About Divorce

Did you catch this short, heartfelt video this past week of this sweet little girl, sitting on the stairs at her house explaining to her mom how she wants her divorcing parents to behave? Several friends who are also therapists brought it to my attention, and I think it's well worth watching. It comes straight from her heart.

This little girl also causes me to reflect on the many children and teens I have seen the last 25 years as a family therapist who shared many of these same feelings with me. If we listened to children's feelings, here are a few points to keep in mind as you make this transition:

1. Your child or children didn't make this decision. You and/or your partner did. You might be happier, but you have to respect your children's own grief process. It's a huge loss for them of their intact family. Their grief process can take a very long time, and get reawakened as they pass significant life events and you are not together as a family. This would include their graduations, life passages like dances and learning to drive,holidays, weddings.

2.Be nice. Be respectful to the other parent, no matter what your feelings are for them. You do this as a gift to your children. Remember, you selected that other person to have a family with. Your children probably still strongly need and value that other parent you are no longer interested in or are dividing assets with. Your child will thank you down the road for being kind.

3. Keep the children out of the middle as much as you possibly can.   

4. Find an adult listener who is not your child. You have your own feelings---anger, fear, sadness and more but it's dreadful for your child to hear it. 

5. Hold on to the adult/child boundaries. In separation and divorce, children can be scared and teens can test the limits to see if you're still parenting. Maintain bedtimes, homework time, mealtimes. Make it a point to still play with and enjoy time with each child and together as a household. Keep taking an interest in their lives. Divorcing parents can get so overwhelmed with their own feelings. Also, please keep everyone sleeping in their own bed.

6. Listen, deeply from your heart. Ask your children how they are doing. Find out if they want or need more support, like individual or family counseling or a divorce group for kids to get help adjusting. Remind them that anything they are feeling is okay. Be fully present when you are with your children, not being distracted by your phone.

7. Avoid badmouthing the other parent. Watch angry texting and emails as well because they create a tense environment between households that will impact the children. Try to avoid drama, like calling the police, unless it is a true emergency. It's traumatic for the children to watch that happen.

8. Wait to date. I've worked with teens whose parents are just barely separated and mom or dad are sharing their dating experiences on Tinder which is scary for them. Your children need to be your focus for quite a while. Usually, children want to be center stage and have parents be stable, supportive and available to help, not crazy in love.

9.Don't unload your stresses on the kids. Manage your stress with exercise, support from friends and family, a good therapist who can help you process your grief and understand your part. Don't worry the kids with your worries. Keep alcohol use to a minimum. Make a stress management plan for your own self-care.

10. Let the kids know things on a need to know basis, and as it is developmentally appropriate. It doesn't help kids to know the other parent cheated on you. On the other hand, if the other parent gets incarcerated don't tell the kids something vague like they are away or working out of town. Children need to feel like they know the key aspects of what's happening in their own families. If in doubt, call a family therapist or your pediatrician for advice.

11. Provide reassurance. Let the children know they didn't cause the divorce, and that you did love the other parent when you met. Let them know that you are still their parents and are still going to work together as a team on their behalf. Make custody change days as smooth as possible, or have custody changes occur from school pick up to avoid scenes.

12. Realize you aren't really getting rid of the person you are divorcing. When you have children, you are connected through those children, and if you are so lucky, by grandchildren later as well. Act accordingly.

13. Limit the changes as much as you possibly can. If you can keep the children's schools the same, do it. It would be great if you could stay in the same residence, and the other parent move nearby. If you can't, stay as close to the children's friends, school and grandparents as you can.

Divorce is hard for children. You have it in your power to minimize the pain for your children. You'll be so happy you chose amutually respectful and child-centered way to navigate this family transition.

36 Questions to Fall In Love: A Follow-Up

In January 2015, the Modern Love column in the New York Times ran an article by reporter Mandy Len Catron about the experiment she ran trying to create connection between two strangers. She used herself and an acquaintance as the subjects. Catron applied the research findings of Dr. Arthur Aron who studies the science of love and intimacy at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. His results were originally published in the article The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (1997).

These questions can be used with someone you want to get to know, or someone you're already in a relationship with and just want to deepen the intimacy between you.

Catron and her acquaintance from a rock climbing class met at a bar and again later at a bridge. They asked each other the 36 questions that Dr. Aron developed to build connection and intimacy, and stared deeply into each other's eyes. The questions have been developed to sequentially deepen and increase the disclosure between two individuals. 

What happened? In her article in January, Catron shared with readers that the experiment worked. Catron and the acquaintance from the experiment are dating and have fallen in love. After her article was published in the New York Times, thousands of people have searched the internet for the list of 36 questions and tried them with a partner or potential partner. In the nine months since her article came out, Catron has been flooded with inquiries about whether the two are still together. It seems everybody is rooting for them.

In an August, 2015 TedX talk at Chapman University in Orange, California, Catron presented on her experience of falling in love through the experiment and sharing the experience with a few million readers. She shared how unprepared she was for the amount of interest in her personal life, with emails and inquiries from around the globe about whether the couple are still together.

Catron reflects that she realizes now that the harder thing is to stay in love rather than simply falling in love. She spoke eloquently in her TedX talk about having discovered that when you fall in love, you become vulnerable and have something wonderful to lose. Love involves risking being hurt. The decision to be in love and keep building a loving relationship is one we keep making every day.

 The 36 questions are a good way to get started, but keeping the loving connection going for years is the real goal. Falling in love can be easy but staying in love takes awareness, continued curiosity, growth and sustained effort, even when you don't feel like it.
Are Catron and her boyfriend from the experiment still dating? The answer is yes, and she seems happy and grateful. Here are the 36 questions from Aron's research in case you'd like to try to build your emotional connection with someone:

(ask in order)

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a perfect day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain the mind or the body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up one morning and have gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "we are both in this room feeling..."
26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what it would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?  Why haven't you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
 

Connecting with your Children: Ten Tips

Most parents feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children, but a recent Pew research study shows something different. Comparing modern dads to dads in the 1970's, present day dads now spend on average three times as much time with the kids. Mothers have increased the amount of time they spend with the children by 57%, even with more mothers working. Perhaps instead of looking at the amount of time, we should look at the quality of it.

Children and teens often complain in counseling that parents seem distracted when they are with them. They notice when we park our cell phones and give them our full, undivided attention. They crave time where we are paying attention and are truly available to them. (Actually our adult partner also craves this.)

We can be so focused on driving them to school, sports and lessons that we become more of a driver than a parent. It's also possible to overemphasize achievement, and overlook the need children and teens have to just spend time together with us as a family.

How can you create ways to get closer as a family?

1. Listen to music together. Have your teen share about their favorite music with you. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2014 showed that listening to music together as a family builds bonds, especially in the teen years.

2. Get outside together and go on adventures.

3. Use car time to chat with the kids. Listen more than you speak.

4. Join their world. Ask about their friends, homework, what they did at school. Be interested.

5. Create rituals for connection: morning rituals, Sunday dinners, movie nights, pizza night, reading aloud as a family, at bedtime or make a board game night.

6. Plan 1:1 dates with each child or teen. Keep this up into college and beyond if you can and they are close enough geographically.

7. Hold family meetings to discuss changes, chores, vacations, sharing responsibilities and chores.

8. Take family vacations. Research shows it builds bonds as you experience new places together as a team.

9. Invite your children to have their friends over to play. Make room for your teen to host get-togethers with you home to serve snacks and keep an eye on things.

10. Pray and worship together.

There is more to life than speed. Cultivating these parenting patterns will help you build stronger family relationships and help you get to know the people your children are becoming. Don't feel guilty about working, instead be intentional about creating closeness and time to relax and play together.

In Praise of Bedtime, and A Little Structure From Parents

Fall is just around the corner, and I'm helping the families I see in family counseling set up some structure and a game plan for family life for the busy school year ahead. Summer is a time to loosen up the family structure and stay up later, do more outside, take time to vacation and rest up. In September, it's time for the family architects (the parents) to get back on track and communicate with the whole family about how they can help and work together collaboratively.

Too many families have too little structure, and end up being chaotic, messy, and angrier than necessary. If you have school-age children, here is a check-list of things to consider to avoid family chaos and crankiness:

1. Bedtimes- I don't like to see teens up until 2AM then trying to get up for school. Even though most teens stay up late during the summer, I encourage you to talk with your teen ASAP about beginning the shift to an earlier wind-down. Teens actually need more sleep than adults or some younger children. Turning off electronics an hour before bed helps brains cool down and prepare for sleep.

Younger children need bedtimes, too. They need a consistent bedtime routine (think bath time, stories/reading, tucking in/quiet, gentle talking with a parent, then lights out).

Parents also need some relaxing, adult time before bed, which is impossible if you all go to bed at midnight.

2. Get Everyone Sleeping in Their Own Rooms- With the exception of tiny babies, I much prefer we get parents sleeping in their bedroom and the children sleeping in their rooms. This helps everyone get a better night's sleep, helps us maintain appropriate parent/child boundaries, and helps children develop their ability to self comfort. Get started early on this project, because it's much more difficult to clean up this problem when the children are older. If you have an anxious child, go spend time in their room for a while, but don't sleep in their room, and don't have them sleep in yours. This is even more important for single parents. Don't make your child your companion. Adults need some grown up time after children are in bed. Set clear guidelines and enforce them with consistency.

3. Chores- The start of the fall season is a great natural time to set up a simple new chore system. If your kids missed that because they had a nanny when they were younger or you got used to handling everything, start today. Make a list of age appropriate chores, and have all children age 4 and up pick a few, possibly 2 or 3 things they promise to help with that month. Rotate tasks and choose again each month so nobody gets stuck with the trash cans, or some other unappealing task, all the time. Have the children help make a reminder list to post on the fridge which specifies who will do what and when. Have the kids help you set up consequences in advance for any family member who flakes on their chore. Being a family isn't just about receiving, but also about contributing. I recommend that even adult children who live at home while going to college, or after college, get some chores, too. Each person picking up after themselves, making their bed and straightening up the basics in their bedroom and bathroom should definitely be included in this.

4. Allowance- If you don't have a system set up, the fall is a great time to start one up. I like some small amount of money even for little ones as young as 5 or 6. It's a great teaching tool, where you can have them save some, give some to charity, and have some to spend. For older kids, it's a great way not to get nickeled and dimed at stores by the children. They need to plan, bring their own money, and learn to evaluate whether a purchase is really worth it. They can also learn to exercise the self-control to save for an important goal. Some parents link chores to allowance, while others prefer to keep the two as distinct.

5. Morning and Evening Routines- These are the two most high-conflict times for families. Talk with your partner, and then with the children about creating a smooth new morning routine, and ask them each to make a list for themselves of what they need to do.  I prefer everyone gets up a few minutes earlier to make that busy time less hectic. Try to get the children to agree to shower, prep their backpack, pack a lunch, and select school clothes the night before if at all possible. Many girls can really lose time in the morning selecting an outfit. Consider eliminating the third parent, the television set, at these busy times by keeping it off. Start as early as you can to have the children wake up to their own alarm rather than depending on you. It's cute when they are little, but aggravating if you lose the window of opportunity on this task and your high school senior is mad that you didn't keep trying to wake them up after multiple attempts. 

6. Family Meetings- I recommend them as a great tool for communicating and working more effectively as a family. Often Sunday night at dinner works best. Parents plan the agenda. Limit it to 10 to 20 minutes, depending on children's attention spans. I always recommend meetings occur at a mealtime. Put a sheet of paper on the fridge so the children and teens can add agenda items. Have each family member, adults and kids, bring a specific compliment to share with every person there. Keep a journal of plans and decisions made so you can follow up next time you meet. If you pay allowance, this is a good time to distribute it.

7. Family Fun Nights- Too many families don't really enjoy each other that much. It's so important to play together regularly. Ask your children if they would like to create a fun family tradition; perhaps you could initiate a weekly board game and pizza night, or a hike or outdoor activity together on Sunday afternoons. Most children I ask about this are thrilled at the prospect of more family fun. Remember: no cell phones or electronics allowed.

8. Date Night- You are also creating a blueprint for your children about how marriage works. Healthy partnerships take a few hours out of the week to spend doing something enjoyable together, preferably out of the house. If you set up Saturday date nights, you plan one, then ask your partner to plan the next, and keep alternating. Nobody likes to be taken for granted, and I find both partners like to be courted. It's also fun to get to plan some activities you think would be fun to do with your partner. Two rules: 1) Do not discuss the children (it's too easy to hide there) and 2) Try to do something where you can chat some, so a movie is not ideal unless you add getting an iced tea after to discuss the film. 

These eight suggestions can give your family just the structure you need to feel successful in your life as a couple and a family. Go for it! Daily life is so much more fun if we are all paddling the canoe in the same direction.

Easing Post-College Transition for Your Child and Yourself

Finishing college is a huge accomplishment. Next comes the post-college transition, which is often more difficult than expected. It can involve your grad moving back home while he looks for work or considers what’s next. After the “high” of graduation, the next chapter can feel like a letdown. He may not be happy to be home and probably misses living independently. Dealing with entrances and exits from the family system can be difficult. Here are some tips that can help your child launch, and assist if he or she decides to re-enter the nest.

Continue reading my article for OC Family here.

Necessary Losses: Getting Good at Getting Through Grief

Necessary losses are a part of our lives. Loss softens us, and causes us to reexamine our lives. Many changes come with the loss of someone you loved. It can take many months, or longer to adjust to life without that beloved person. One has to recreate your sense of self.

There is no one correct way to grieve. Recently, I've had patients reflect that in a grief group at a local hospital they were told to sit in a chair and do an hour of grieving each day, but that's not what I would generally recommend. I have found that grief is as individual as your thumb print or a snowflake. Many people report that grief comes in waves of 20-30 minutes, and can be triggered by many different things. You need to grieve your way, and have support for doing so.

Many feelings are normal as we grieve: sadness, anger, fear, relief, abandonment, shock, confusion, and emptiness.

• What factors impact grief?

• Your relationship with the person you lost

• The suddenness or the expected nature of the loss

• Your temperament

• Your coping skills

• Your support system

• Your faith

• Your loss history and having resolved past grief

The more deeply you were attached to the individual, the greater the loss. When I am working with someone who has lost a baby or a child, that is a huge life-changing kind of loss. A couple can be married for 50 plus years, and depending on the quality of the relationship it could be a much more or less difficult transition. Losing your last or only parent can propel you into being the oldest generation in your family. The end of a friendship or the loss of a cherished pet can be very painful, and unearth other feelings of unresolved loss from earlier in your life. Loss is cumulative.

Grieving is hard work. It can make you feel physically and emotionally drained. When you are grieving, it's important to do extreme self-care and nourish yourself as much as you can. There are tasks of mourning to be done, including feeling the pain of the loss and adapting to your life without that person in it to call or spend time with.

Each individual has a loss history. I usually try to take information about previous loss in the first few sessions in counseling individuals. Your history of loss includes all the moves, break-ups, family divorces, job loss, loss of friends as well as loss by death that you have experienced in your lifetime. Looking at how you have coped with past losses and what was helpful can be a good place to start approaching the current loss you may be experiencing.

• What helps people who are grieving?

• Support from friends and family

• Rest

• Eating healthfully

• Getting back into life as you can

• A place or person where you can process your grief

• A growth-oriented mindset

Loss is a part of our lives and while very painful, also allows us to grow and to reflect on our own lives and mortality. Getting good at letting yourself fully grieve allows you to go forward being more open, more loving and with a deeper sense of reverence for the delicate nature of our time here. Understanding how your own loss history informs your life can help you become more fully human and more empathic to others.