Training parents– Part 2

Visiting time boundaries

Fictional Donna and David have been working the last two days to enforce phone boundaries. It is difficult. Donna’s mother always has “one more thing” to say before she hangs up. Donna is working at a quick, “Well, I’ve got to go now, goodbye” hangup before her mother goes on to the next topic. David has less difficulty telling Donna’s parents that Donna is busy now and that he has a lot he needs to get done. David realizes that if he just changes his language, things go easier. If he tells Donna’s parents he “would like to” or “should” get something done, they continue talking. If he says that he “needs to” do something, they wind down a bit and he’s able to do the quickie, “thanks for calling, bye.” So they are seeing a bit of progress in their handling of her parents’ intrusions.

In general, now that Donna is beginning to see the problem as a boundary problem rather than something wrong with her parents or with her, she is less defensive and she sees that she and David are on the same side.

The next task they have is to teach Donna’s parents that there are boundaries on their visiting. That isn’t to say that Donna’s parents aren’t welcome. In fact, they can be delightful with the children and of course Donna has a great deal of affection for them. What they don’t want is for her parents’ controlling behavior to get in the way of the possibility of pleasant times together.

They have noticed a few conditions that seem to accompany negative interactions:

1. There are times when Donna’s parents just show up. They come in and expect Donna to drop everything to talk with them. Donna’s mother invariably comments that the house is “a mess.”

2. It seems that the longer they stay, the more controlling they become.

3. There are certain subjects that seem to set them off.

4. There are reactions that seem to make them become even more emphatic

With those in mind, let’s see what Donna and David can do.

The first thing is that they can tell Donna’s parents that they would really appreciate a call from them when they are thinking of visiting. That would allow Donna to let them know if it’s a good time for her and would enable her to get the house straightened up and to sit and talk with them rather than being in the middle of folding laundry or making a meal or some other household task. They should tell Donna’s parents that when the visits are spontaneous, Donna never feels as if she can just sit and enjoy their company and she would like them to see her at her best and not her frazzled worst!

When her parents call, she should be honest and tell them a time that is acceptable to her. She should also put a limit on the visit. “Mom, I would love for you come over at 10, but I am going to need to go out at about 11.”

She really should not discuss with her parents where she might be going or what she will be doing. That only encourages intrusiveness.

If there are subjects that set them off, then obviously, Donna and David should avoid them. If Donna and David encourage her parents to talk about their own activities, they will minimize the advice-giving. If there is really something that her parents can offer them in terms of experience and knowledge, they should ask her parents for help so that they will have the pleasure of helping their daughter.

David and Donna also need to become sensitive to the types of responses that make her parents go into high gear. One would be opposing their ideas or giving counter-examples. Donna’s mother, for example, may think that the baby will have colic if his feet aren’t covered even in 90 degree weather. Rather than opposing that as ridiculous, Donna and David can say “You might be right,” and nod their heads thoughtfully. Ideas and attitudes that have no immediate application should not be debated. When Donna’s parents are confronted, they will always charge on. The best thing to do is to listen and nod. The goal in interactions with them is not to win on logic and not to show how independent David and Donna are. It is to maintain a warm relationship. David and Donna are under no obligation to comply with her parents’ advice.

If Donna and David are able to begin building these boundaries, they will notice that the stress that they are under will begin to lessen and their own relationship will be enhanced.

Training parents– Part 1

Well, since you asked….

Many people have the same concern: Why can’t my/my spouse’s parents understand that we are adults who are caring for our own children? Why do they think we can’t make healthy decisions on our own? Why do they think they have to tell us what to do?

The simple answer is that for some reason, these grandparents/ parents of adults forgot that their children grew up. They don’t know how to offer support without imposing control. The tighter they attempt to hold on to control, the stronger the adult child’s need to put some distance between him/herself and the parent.

Often, this creates friction in the younger couple. In general, people want to be kind and loving toward their parents, but the parents’ actions can make that difficult.

Let’s take David and Donna, two fictional people who we are meeting for the first time today. David’s parents live at a great distance from them, but they maintain telephone contact and most of the time the interactions with them are pleasant, if not extremely close. Donna, on the other hand, lives only a few blocks away from her parents. Donna’s mother calls her several times a day. She asks her what she is feeding her children for each meal, what clothing size the baby is, how much weight Donna has lost since the baby’s birth. In addition, Donna’s father needs to know how much money Donna and David are putting into savings each month and whether David has found a good financial analyst. He also asks Donna questions about David’s work that even she doesn’t know the answers to. On their frequent, unplanned visits, Donna’s mother checks out the amount of dust under the sofa and comments on the dirty dishes in the sink. Donna’s father suggests that the houseplants need to be fertilized and they are being under-watered.

Is it any wonder that David blows his top after every interaction with Donna’s parents? He resents not only their interference in his life, but also their interference in Donna’s. Donna too resents her parents badgering, but she feels angry when David points it out. She even sometimes says things like, “Oh, so your parents are so perfect– like if we all died they wouldn’t know until a week from Tuesday when they get around to calling again.” David, of course, then responds with something like, “Well at least they aren’t always in my face; your parents are suffocating me!” Donna, feeling defensive then responds with something like, “Well, at least they care!”

And so on.

The truth is that the problem is not with David and Donna. It is that Donna’s parents have not yet figured out that she grew up. She no longer asks them for money and she has made good decisions. But somehow, they haven’t gotten it that she grew up! Perhaps they are so used to being in control that they don’t know how to give it up. Perhaps they don’t know another way to be close to their adult daughter. And perhaps their life lacks other sources of connection and satisfaction.

Think of it… It take a lot of energy to be controlling. When would one have time to have fun?

Clearly, Donna’s parents are not going to change on their own. The change in the relationship has to come from both David and Donna. They need to redefine the problem as inappropriate boundaries. Simply put, Donna’s parents have been breaching the marital fence that David and Donna have constructed. Somehow or other, the “no trespassing” signs have not been seen or taken seriously. David and Donna need to strengthen that fence. Depending on the types of intrusion, there are several strategies.

Today let’s start with time boundaries

Telephone:

There should be clear “call” and “no call” hours. Donna’s parents should be informed that because of their family activities and Donna’s need for things like sleep and a shower and feeding the baby and cleaning and straightening and cooking, it is not a good idea to call before x hour in the morning or after x hour at night. If a phone call does come in at those hours, then David or Donna needs to politely say, “I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time; can you call me at [and supply a time within the call hours]?” If they persist, say, “I really do want to hear what you have to say, but I need to put down the phone now. ‘Talk to you later. Goodbye.”

I know it sounds harsh, but it is necessary to be clear and consistent. Hints won’t make it! They need to know that there is no talking or listening outside of normal talk/listening hours.

Next time: Visiting time boundaries

Parents

When we enter the world, they are there. Our parents. They are there to love us, nurture us, teach us, guide us. They are, of course, only human, so despite the love they feel for us, they may say and do things that harm us physically or emotionally. But still, we look to them for guidance and for approval. So strong is the drive for a parent’s love that an overly close attachment is frequently a sign of overt child abuse. The child, thinking himself the cause of the parent’s anger, tries desperately to regain the parent’s love.

As we go through life, our parents are our guides and protectors. They help us understand the world. They teach us their values. They work to give us all of the things that they want us to have. When we don’t meet their expectations, they disapprove. They lecture. They punish. But they do it because they want us to be the best we can be. They want to be proud of us.

So we struggle between our desire to have a close relationship with them and our desire to find ourselves. Throughout our teen years, we discover our own values. In our twenties, we test those values in the real world, and by our thirties, if we are lucky, we finally know who we are.

All this time, our parents are fading into the sidelines. Now instead of being directors of our lives, they are the critics. They offer their opinions— thumbs up, thumbs down. Sometimes they offer guilt trips. But they are there. They are always there for us to connect to and draw from. They offer their experience, their expertise, their love.

And most of the time, our relationship with them is complex. We love them and they drive us crazy. We want to be close to them and we wish they would leave us alone.

And then, if we are lucky, they grow older, and they need us to help them out. As their physical strength wanes, we must take on the caregiving nurturing role. Sometimes that offers a chance to connect in a new way. Sometimes it becomes a test of wills and a difficult challenge for the children. But always, the parent remains a parent and his or her love is what the child desires.

And they when they have gone, we children begin to realize anew how precious were moments that we shared with them. We remember our mother’s laughter, her blush of self-consciousness, her clever wit, her unbounded energy. We remember our father’s gentle voice, his soft touch, his optimism and his appreciation of beautiful things.

We hold these within us and cherish them. We take on these qualities to honor them and remember them. We understand the fragility of life. We know that patience, a kind word, a smile can heal and we know that if we want to live a life with few regrets, that we have to remember that we never know when a goodbye will be the last one.

Surprises

I have never had a surprise party. I guess it’s because no one ever thought about making me one. Once, for my birthday about 11 years ago, all of my children got together and we went out to eat when I had expected only some to show up and then when I got home there were all sorts of practical gifts for me. I had just moved to Israel and was missing things like an iron and ironing board and full length mirror, and a few other things. It was a lovely evening despite the fact that the wait staff at the brand new Thai restaurant had as little a clue as we did what was on the menu. They seemed to deliver random items to the table, a fact that was confirmed when one asked “who had the fish?” The answer was that no one had ordered fish. My guess is that none of us had ordered anything that we were served. But it was a happy evening and one that I like to remember.

So this year, when my birthday rolled around, it made me really happy to get a couple of emails and telephone calls and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from all of the children. They had remembered and that was very special.

My daughter Leah had invited us to dinner tonight, something that was unusual, but it seemed like a very nice idea. My husband and I both have colds and really were feeling sluggish tonight, but we went anyway. Imagine my surprise when she opened the door to her apartment and there were two other children and their spouses, a couple of grandchildren and a couple of our best friends! I really was surprised. I hadn’t even had a thought that this might be a party!

It was a lovely evening. Our son, Sam and his wife, Ofi entertained us with tales of their children who are very interesting children who say and do cute things. We did a lot of laughing and that felt really good.

I am really grateful for my good friends and my wonderful family. I want to thank my dear husband and fabulous children and especially those terrific people who are married to my children– who chose spouses, but surely didn’t choose me! They are all super people and I appreciate them and love them as my own.

Thank you all!

Back from the North

It’s been a busy week. We had a visiting relative who we took to Jerusalem and then up north. It gave us the opportunity to see the north for the first time since the war and to spend a little money where it’s needed.

We were surprised to see very little damage in the area where we traveled although there was a minor rocket hit in an alley not far from where we stayed.

I had forgotten how beautiful the land is. I love the starkness of the hills, dotted with acacias and sycamores and olive trees. I love the stone streets and alleys and the shuttered stone dwellings.

Of course, Jerusalem is the crowning glory, and so we spent time there too. I have uploaded some of the pictures to this site.

Remembering 9/11

In an effort to remember the victims of the brutal, murderous assault on the US, people throughout the world are posting today, remembering one person each, one precious life taken for no reason. A complete list is on this web site. This is one tribute:

Gregory E. Rodriguez, 31, White Plains, N.Y.

Assistant Vice President, information security, Cantor Fitzgerald
Confirmed dead, World Trade Center, at/in building

Comments:
08/26/2002 5:46:17 PM

I did not know Gregory. I was terribly saddened by the death of all victims of September 11, including the victims in in Afghanistan. I am impressed and inspired by the courageous response of Gregory’s parents, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, who urged a rational, nonviolent response to the attacks, and as to violent retaliation proclaimed, “not in our son’s name!”

Bob Podzikowski
Oak Park, Michigan

08/27/2002 9:17:44 PM

Greg was my friend for 14 years. While we often didn’t see one another for months, we spoke often and just hearing his voice was enough to know that the next 5, 10, 15 minutes would be entertaining and full of irony and wit. He was capable of turning any difficult situation into one that became humorous and non-stressful. I think about him daily on my ride into Manhattan where you can clearly see the Manhattan skyline on the way into the Lincoln Tunnel. Even after almost one year of time, I often find myself thinking that the phone will ring and my friend Greg will be on the other end of the line, ready to make this difficult situation easier to deal with. You’re sorely missed by your friends and family, Ito.

Sandman

09/10/2002 12:36:47 PM

I think I knew him, he was such a great guy. If I’m not mistaken, he was my neighbour.

Rest in peace!

Angel Pendas

09/11/2002 8:26:41 AM

My younger cousin was a true humanitarian that cared about those we often overlook. Ironically, he would have been the first one to discuss our nation’s policies around the globe and what could be done to peacefully advance any mutually beneficial changes. He was an intelligent man, full of hope, respectful and curious of other cultures. I miss him not only as a beloved family member, but as a man that inspired me to go beyond distrust and seek the truth.

Florence

03/10/2004 2:34:44 PM

I met Gregory only 3 times. That was during my job interviews at Cantor. I did not take a job for personal reasons. He was a great, great guy. Nice person. Tremendous loss for his family and all of us. Rest in peace. You did not go in vain. We shall pay them back for you and all others. Best wishes to your family.

Juan A. Vega, Sr.

08/07/2005 1:39:55 PM

To you Gregory in heaven . As a young child and the son of my wife’s favorite cousin we were fortunate to see you grow into a fine young man. Your wedding to Elizabeth and the happiness of friends and relatives at such a joyous occassion will forever be next to the sad memories of the tragedy and perfidy that took your young and innocent life. After your passing we were blessed with our first grandson. The day my son called me to announce his birth, the event was even happier when he said his name would be Joshua Gregory in remembrance of you. We all miss you and wonder what wonderful things you could have accomplished. Every 9/11 I will pray for your soul and eternal rest. Years will not erase our memories of you.

I met Greg in 1994 at Salomon Brothers … For the next 2 years, we’d learn so much about our lives. We would have debates about politics while drinking ice-cold vodka at a Russian spa. He taught me how to not take the job too seriously and enjoy life everyday. I taught him that first impressions are forever lasting, and to be humble with your knowledge and prosperity.

Mark Simmons, colleague

Life goes on

Life has been busy lately.

On Thursday we went to the rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. We left our home in Modi’in, drove to Ben Gurion Airport, and took the train into the city, assuming that traffic and parking would be difficult. We walked about 20 minutes to the rally which was well-attended– depending on who you ask, there were between 60K and 100K people there. That’s pretty impressive for a country of under 7 million when everyone in the country agrees that the soldiers need to come home. the people there were not protesting anything– rather giving strength to the families and appealing to our own leaders and leaders throughout the world to do whatever it takes to bring these young men home. Most impressive was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau’s (former chief rabbi of Israel, current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv) challenge to Nasrallah that as another man of religion, to show himself as a compassionate human being… as a father who himself lost a son, who should know what it feels like to have that sort of pain, he should be ready to deal kindly.

Of course, as far as I am concerned, asking Nasrallah to act like a compassionate human being would be like asking a snake to walk on all four of his legs. I don’t think that he is capable of human feelings of compassion and kindness. Several years ago, I referred to him as an animal and my daughter reminded me that I was insulting her dog who would never act cruelly unless he really felt a personal threat.

So we went and we displayed our concern for the suffering of the families, and these young men are never out of our consciousness as we, along with the rest of the people of Israel, wait for their return.

On Friday morning, a friend of a friend arrived in Israel for a first visit and since then we have been introducing him to Israel. Last night, after dark, we went to the Western Wall (the Kotel) and found it full of people from all over Israel as well as plenty of tourists.

In the air was the sound of the shofar and the sound of a small band of seminary students playing the music of traditional prayers. The air was cool and clear. We walked through the stone alleys of the Jewish Quarter. We noted that the Hurva Synagogue, long a symbol of the destruction of the city by the Jordanians after the War of Independence– readily identified by the single arch reminiscent of the former roofline– is being reconstructed. The arch was gone and the area was full of construction materials. We are still rebuilding Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a treasure. It is our place. It is our home. Jerusalem is a magical city.