Boundaries 8– Parenting adult children

When finally we get to the part of our lives when our children become adults, new boundary issues surface.

If all along we have been recognizing that our child was developing his or her abilities to make healthy decisions, then this period is not as difficult. If we had been thinking of the child as still needing our input in order to function optimally, then this period can be very hard.

Once a child is earning his/her own living, marries, and has his/her own children, the parents’ role should have changed radically. Parents then become older colleagues—people who share their experience with their children. Discussions should be real dialogues and not monologues. Parents should not call their children too often (more than once a day) unless there is a good reason. When the children even hint that they need to get off the phone, the parents should politely say, “have a good day/evening” and hang up. Calling hours should be at times of the day when people are expected to answer the telephone. Too early in the morning or too late at night can make the parents’ call an annoyance rather than a pleasant experience. As a rule, parents shouldn’t “drop in” on their children without first calling to see if it’s a good time. Parents need to realize that their adult children do have their own lives.

One of the hardest aspects of being the parent of adult children is watching your children raising their children differently than you did. It is difficult NOT to intervene. After all, if your children turned out well, you believe that you know a lot more about raising children than your child and his/her spouse do.

This was a dilemma for me. As I watched each of my children interact with their own children, I had plenty to say, but I kept silent. As I watch the grandchildren of four families grow up with four different styles of parenting, I become more and more convinced that there are many ways to raise good children.

Here are some exceptions to the rules:

If you see violence, I believe you need to stop it in the best way you can. With clients, I frequently tell them that violence (hitting, pinching, pushing, kicking, spanking, beating) simply doesn’t work. I explain to them that what it teaches the child is that people who are stronger can control people who are weaker by force. That three year old will someday be sixteen and stronger than his mother and father. Is that the message you really want to give?

If you see emotional abuse, I believe you need to stop it. Emotional abuse consists of (but is not limited to) treating the child in a way that devalues the child. Name-calling (cry-baby, terror, troublemaker, “Miss Pris”) is a sure sign that the child is being thought of in a derogatory manner. When parents label children as bad instead of shaping their behaviors, they are emotionally abusing them. When parents make fun of children or threaten them or make them feel guilty for no reason (“it’s because of you that I have stretch marks; I used to look really good”) that is emotional abuse. Parents usually will deny that it’s abuse. They will tell you that the child knows they are joking, but children don’t process this as humor. One father I had in my office used to tell his child that if he did something that the father didn’t approve of, he would “break his arm.” The father said that the child understood he didn’t really mean it. When I asked the four year old what it meant when Daddy said he would break his arm, the child said he thought that meant that his father was going to remove his arm—in the way that a doll’s arm comes off. The child said that it made him scared. Parents need to be sensitized to the fact that children are very literal and they don’t understand exaggeration, metaphor, or sarcasm until age five or six at the earliest. They also need to know that children internalize names they are called. They make these names part of them and they believe what their parents say about them. The “terror” will felt that wreaking havoc is his role in life. Labeling makes positive change hard.

In the event that you are seeing abuse, discussion with your own child should not be in the grandchild’s presence since you should not undermine the parents’ authority. Respect is the key word here… respect of the grandparent for the parents and respect of the parents for their children. All help should be given with love and understanding. Often young parents are just trying to do the best they can and learning alternative methods of managing the child’s behavior can help both the parents and the children.

What is Moving

Moving is what one does to get from place to place, position to position. Moving is what successful people do to get ahead. That’s how they become one of the “movers and shakers.”

Moving is what a family is involved in when they go on vacation—when they discover new places and have all sorts of adventures.

Moving is what a family does when they are vacating one home and taking up residence in another.

Moving implies purposeful action, forward momentum, active involvement.

In Israel, there has been a lot moving lately.

Politicians have been moving all over the airwaves. Police and Army personnel have been moving south to Gaza and north to Samaria. People who are against the disengagement have been moving to demonstrations in Netivot, Kfar Maimon, Sderot, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv,. Reporters and photographers from all over the world have been moving in an effort to catch the action.

People who have lived on sand dunes (never before inhabited ) and have built their lives and their communities for twenty or thirty years, having been urged to settle there by successive Israeli governments were moving—by force, out of their homes to an unknown future.

But moving is also the word that describes the most powerful memory of these days– the eyes of the uprooted children whose faith in the goodness of humanity was crushed.

To my grandmother

If we were able to chart a person’s development, I believe it would be possible to pinpoint certain incidents and people who had a profound effect on the person that no one would have guessed. We commonly believe that the most important influences in a person’s life are parents, to some extent teachers, and then finally, friends.

As I think about what made me who I am today, I think that two of the most important influences were my grandmothers. I have already written a bit about my mother’s mother—about lighting Sabbath candles with her and feeling warm and cozy. She was someone who loved me unconditionally. I have not yet written about my father’s mother, a woman who also loved me unconditionally. She was a very interesting woman, a talented woman, and I think she was a “closet” family therapist.

My father’s mother, Yetta Mager, came to the US from Russia. She married and raised five children, three girls and two boys. My father was her second child and the older of her two sons. I was the oldest of her grandchildren. She was a seamstress who worked in what later was termed a “sweatshop.” She was talented and her job was to sew the top fronts of ladies’ dresses, a job reserved for only the best of seamstresses. I remember visiting her at work once. It was probably the noise of the sewing machines that contributed to her hearing loss.

There are a lot of wonderful memories I have of my grandmother— her open welcoming arms, her happiness at seeing us, and the “vasser-milich” (hot water with milk and sugar) she made me. I remember her beautiful colored dairy dishes and I remember the Chanuka menorah as it was lit. I remember the big Passover seder she prepared each year and can still picture the whole family gathered around her dining room table.

I remember being amused and impressed when she told me that she and my grandfather were going to take English lessons. To me she was an old woman—to think of her learning was incongruous, but I admired her for making the effort.

I remember two really important things she used to say. As I little girl, I liked when she tickled me. Of course, I also needed her to stop when I was giggling too hard. I would be laughing and laughing and saying, “Stop it!” and she would stop, but always while saying, “Stop it; I like it!” It was the first time I ever heard of a concept that I would learn was a mixed message. I came to learn that people get confused about what they want, what feels good and what feels bad, and when too much is too much.

The second thing she told me was in response to my complaining about someone being “mad” at me. She said, “He’s mad; so he’ll get glad.” It was my introduction to the lability of human emotions. I had never thought before about the fact that someone who is angry could at some time in the future be not angry. I came to understand that emotions are temporary and that a relationship can heal.

She was a woman who had a wonderful natural wisdom. Had she lived in a different time, she would have been able to achieve great things in academia. Instead, she was an inspiration for me and a warm, loving presence in my life, an anchor in the stormy sea. She would have been proud of my achievements.

My grandmother was blessed with living long enough to get to know four of my children. I believe that her greatest pride would be in her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the great-greats who already are engaged in the study of torah and the work of improving the world.

Disbelief (Gush Katif)

In high school I learned about “willing suspension of disbelief.” My teacher explained that when you are reading fantasy, you give up some of your logical, judgmental thought and just read and enter into the fantasy. Over the years, there have been films and television programs that have demanded the same. We have seen a flying nun, a witch, angels who interact with people, a man who gets the newspaper a day early, and a girl who talks to God in many different guises. However, I have never seen anything that challenged my logic or judgment as much as what I am watching this morning.

Today I am watching the Army and the police begin the process of removing people from the homes they have built and lived in for the last 30 years. These are homes that the people built with the blessings of the Israel government. They came to sand dunes. They were greeted with bread and salt by their Arab neighbors who looked at them incredulously and asked them how they intended to build a life on the sand. But build they did! They gave birth to their children, raised them there. They planted trees and bushes and gardens and turned the sand dunes into a paradise. They formed communities that worked together like large families, caring for each others’ children, celebrating each others’ milestones, and mourning each others’ losses. They developed farming methods and greenhouses that account for a third of Israel’s agricultural exports not to mention the domestic consumption.

In 1994, I visited Neve Dekalim for a weekend. There was a lovely hotel there and we celebrated together with our new daughter-in-law’s family the recent marriage of our children. The beach was idyllic, the people were friendly and kind, and the Arab neighbors we encountered on our walk were friendly.

In the fall of 2000 the Arabs began a large terror campaign. Innocent Israelis were murdered in their cars and homes, in pizza parlors and buses, in the street and in shopping malls. After all of these tragedies, for some unknown reason, our Prime Minister decided to evacuate and destroy 25 Jewish communities. We have not yet heard any explanation other than they represent a small number among a sea of Arabs. Of course the same could be said for the entire country of Israel. We are a population of 5 million Jews in a sea of over 200 million Arabs. Should we all leave our homes?

Meanwhile, the television stations are showing nonstop coverage of the discussions taking place between the representatives of the communities and the Army commanders sent to deliver eviction notices. Hundreds of photographers and reporters from all over the world are here to record the expulsion of Jews by Jews. Meanwhile, our Arab enemies are preparing large celebrations under the motto, “Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem.” They have announced that after the expulsions thousands of terrorists will come to live in Gaza.

None of the estimates of what will follow this include a lessening of terrorism. So it appears that what is being accomplished is that the terrorists can rejoice in the fact that their terror has caused Israel to flee and they now feel emboldened to continue murdering and to hope for more expulsions of Jews by Jews.

There is a real question as to whether this process is democratic. Sharon, who is carrying it out ran against Mitzna who proposed it and Sharon won a large victory because of his opposition to the process. When he polled his political party, they rejected this action, but after saying he would abide by their decision, he ignored the vote.

Those who see this process as a good one believe that it is better that our soldiers not have to defend these isolated communities. Of course, leaving them allows the terrorists better access to our larger population areas like the cities of Ashqelon and Ashdod and the power station and desalination plant. So I sit and watch and still am not able to believe what I am seeing…. And I wait for a flying nun or a witch or angels who interact with people or a man who gets the newspaper a day early or a girl who talks to God to come and stop this.

Escaping from depression

The word “depressed” is bandied about in common parlance as meaning anything from how a woman feels when her hairdresser has done a terrible job cutting her hair to how a person feels when he or she is hopeless and feels that life is too difficult to live.

Depression is not a simple thing. People who have never suffered from depression cannot really understand it. Many years ago when I was an intern at a family therapy institute, I was called upon to help a depressed woman. She and I met two or three times a week. It wasn’t until then that I began to understand how unremitting and pervasive depression can be. It was then that I really learned how to stay with a depressed person and enter her/his world. It was only then that I learned to be effective.

People who are depressed fall into two main categories: those who are depressed as a reaction to something that happened to them or something in the environment (e.g., the death of a loved friend or relative, the loss of a job, the harassment of a hostile neighbor) and those who are depressed for no external reason.

The first group of people have what is termed a “reactive depression.” This type of depression is normal and many times it leaves with the passage of time and/or change of circumstance (he/she finds a good job, his/her neighbor moves away). Even when it doesn’t leave of its own accord, in general, therapists can be very effective in helping the person to recover from the depression and resume their normal life.

The second type of depression is much more difficult to treat for a number of reasons. First, there are people who simply have chemical imbalances that cause or exacerbate depression. Second, these people are told by their well-meaning friends and relatives: “Look how much you have to be grateful for!” “You have no reason to be sad—you’re young, intelligent—you have your whole life ahead of you!” Of course then the person not only feels depressed, but also misunderstood, and often guilty for being depressed. Is he/she ungrateful? What does he/she want from the world!

If a person is observant, he/she may notice that he/she has constructed a life that supports the depression. Often the home is dark, the person has few friends. He/she doesn’t feel like going out and so stays at home aside from work or school. He/she may eat either not enough, resulting in feeling weak or too much, in order to fill him/herself up. The person moves slowly, smiles little, and becomes more and more isolated emotionally. Other people represent challenges and sometimes pain, and so the best thing to do is to have as little interaction as possible with them.

People who are depressed often think of the depression as being part of their being, their personality. This is unfortunate as it makes change much harder to achieve. Of course we are talking here about people whose ability to even consider change is weak or non-existent. After all, change involves both effort and risk, and when one is depressed, it seems as if it is simply not worth it.

I think there are some things that people who are depressed can do for themselves whether or not they are seeing a therapist and whether or not they are on medication.

1. Separate yourself from the depression. In other words, just like people get the flu and then the flu goes away, people become depressed and then they become un-depressed. Just as you are not a “flu-person”, you are not a “depressed person”—you are a person who is suffering from depression.
2. Even though it is hard to imagine it, understand that change is possible and that your life will change for the better in the future.
3. Think of one activity you would engage in if you were not depressed. What would you be doing? Painting? Taking long walks? Jogging? Inviting friends over to dinner? Find one, just one, and do it anyway. Pretend for that period of time that you are not depressed. This helps you to begin changing the lifestyle that supports your depression.
4. Be patient with yourself. People go through different phases and stages in their lives. Sometimes life hands you more than you can cope with temporarily. You will get over it. Be gentle and patient with yourself. There is an end to the depression and it may surprise you as to how it happens.

Is your therapist helping you?

Psychotherapy can be good. Very good. Among other things, it can help people sort out their feelings, heal old hurts, learn how to deal with difficult family members, enable them to make better choices, help them to form a more realistic self-image. As a marriage and family therapist, I feel that psychotherapy often is the key to people living healthy, happy lives. Sometimes we need a sounding board or someone who can look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes we need someone to help us sort things out or to encourage us to try out new behaviors.

Unfortunately, not all psychotherapists provide the help that people need. I include in the term psychotherapist all of the following: psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, family therapists, counselors, life coaches, spiritual advisors, clergypersons and any others who engage in similar activities. There are large numbers of individuals in all of these fields who are capable, competent, ethical, and effective. No field has the monopoly on effectiveness. Yet, in all of these fields, there are individuals who are not capable, not competent, unethical, and even harmful.

Those psychotherapists who do harm to their clients may do so not out of incompetence (although there is plenty of that around) and not because they intend to do harm (because most believe that they are altruistic and helpful), but simply because of economic realities.

In many large cities, the number of psychotherapists per thousand people is greater than the demand. That means that many psychotherapists must work very hard to make a living. Many will have two or three or four different activities that bring in money. Some will teach on a high school to graduate school level, they will give seminars to lay people or professionals, they will supervise other therapists, they will engage in research, they will do therapy groups. In short, they have to hustle to make a living.

Then, into their office walks a client. Clients are not easy to find, and so the therapist, in his or her desire to help the client and to retain the client, becomes very welcoming and spends time getting to know the client and his or her problem. So far, the “good” psychotherapist is indistinguishable from the harmful one. Here are some ways that the lay person can tell the difference between them.

1. Does the therapist tell you that actually your problems are much more complex than you thought?
2. Does the therapist suggest that you see him/her more than once a week?
3. Do you think that the therapist is the most important person in your life?
4. Do you leave the office feeling weaker and more wounded than when you came in?
5. Does your therapist encourage you to believe that no one can understand you the way he/she can?
6. Does your therapist keep you oriented to the past (working out past hurts)?
7. Did your therapist “help” you to recover memories?
8. Does your therapist summarize from time to time the progress you’ve made and where you are in the therapy?
9. Are you working on a specific goal?
10. Overall, are you feeling better than you did when you first entered therapy?
11. Does your therapist encourage you to think of yourself as normal and healthy?
12. Do you have any idea as to when the therapy will end?

If you answered more than two of the first seven questions with a “yes,” and/or any of numbers 8-12 “no” it might be a good idea to talk with someone you respect about whether this therapist is doing you good or whether perhaps, you are helping the therapist to solve some of his/her problems.

Remember, the money that you spend on a therapist is the least expensive part of the investment. As you spend time with an ineffective or unethical therapist, you are wasting time in your life that could be spent healing and living!

If you have doubts or questions about what I have written that you would like to discuss with me, I am available at drsavta@gmail.com. I do NOT do therapy over the internet and there is no money involved.

Happiness is…

They say that happiness is a warm puppy. Well, if so, someone wanted me to be very very very very happy.

Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to go out and teach two seminars (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), we heard a noise outside our apartment door as if someone was mistreating a dog. When my husband opened the door, imagine his surprise when he found a box containing a pillow, blanket, and four puppies.

Yes, they were adorable. Each little brown puppy had a beautiful little puppy face and cute little puppy ears and they were little rascals, biting at each other and rolling over and chasing one another and they put on quite a show.

But I had to leave and my husband, unfortunately, was stuck with the puppies all day.

My daughters advertised them on our local community email list. One daughter came over and took digital pictures and my son posted them on the web. When I got home, the house was a nursery. All over the living room there were puppies, playing running, and yes, doing other things that people don’t like done on their living room floor.

A friend came over and took one of the puppies. Of course, she wasn’t sure whether she could keep the puppy because her husband is not a big dog fan. So last night, we had only (only!) three puppies. We put them in the garden room behind the house and when we got up this morning, they had availed themselves of all of its facilities. My husband held them and petted them and fed them and even cleaned up the mess. But the problem remained: what to do with them?

We understood that if we called the local city vet, they would take the puppies, but if the puppies weren’t adopted fairly quickly, they would be euthanized. We certainly didn’t want that to happen. We contacted the local self-proclaimed selfless, self-sacrificing, animal-loving veterinarian who said that yes, he would take the puppies for a fee of about $40 a puppy to cover the walking and food until he found them homes. We called number of animal rescue organizations. Funny how they always do great work when they’re collecting for charity, but when you actually need them to rescue an animal, they become singularly unhelpful and even abusive.

My husband understood that in my current weakened state, these puppies were too much for me, so he took them first to a neighbor who had had two very large dogs and offered one to her. She snatched it up. Then he went to the local shopping center and within about two hours, the remaining two puppies had found homes.

When he returned home empty-handed, I declared him my hero for life! Maybe real happiness is a husband who is totally devoted to you….