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As Daughters Mature, Mothers Reflect on Their Own Beauty

As Daughters Mature, Mothers Reflect on Their Own Beauty

When a daughter goes through puberty, it is only natural for a mother to feel concern for what’s to come. Often teen girls align with their opposite sex parent during their teen years, a change from their childhood when they identify strongly with their same sex parent. That transition can be difficult for the mother, and there can be some conflicts that may stem from insecurity that the mother is losing some part of the special relationship she shared with her in years past.

Mothers may use consumerism as a way to secure quality time with their daughters if they can afford to do so. Seeing a daughter go “solo” might be an early sign of what is to come with college, relationships, and independence from the family unit. Mothers that live vicariously through their daughters will have a hard time separating from their daughters, especially if they feel that they are reliving their own glory years through their daughter.

Mothers should celebrate their daughter’s developmental milestones internally, and support their child with unconditional love. If jealousy and control are interfering with the relationship, taking form in passive aggression, the child will pick up on that and use it against a parent when power struggles occur. A mother that is able to balance their concern and pride for their daughter while coming to terms with their own maturation will be a wonderful role model for their daughters.

A daughter viewing their mother as a role model is not well served by having an insecure parent holding on to the last bits of their physical youth to match their teen daughter.         

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Written for The Washington Post

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Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

As a parent educator and family therapist, I have seen some poor examples of role modeling fiscal behavior. My belief is that a family that practices balanced financial management will raise children that understand the value of money and effort. The Love & Logic style of parenting has a high value on children earning rewards and the parent following through on consequences.

When it comes to money, encouraging the consumer culture in the home is a poor way to set a child up for success. The long-term planning is important if the family can afford it, college funds and a savings account that the child can earn money to deposit through agreed upon benchmarks. A family that provides rewards for the children without a clear reasoning or an expectation that a standard of behavior is important might be hurting the opportunity for children to practice that grit that is so popular in today’s vernacular for raising successful children.

In general, if it is bad for an adult, it is probably bad for a child. Exposing children to the concept of earning and saving for what we want in life will prepare them when they are out in the world making decisions on their own.

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Five steps to reducing family debt

Five steps to reducing family debt

Define the new normal; assess the damage

If we look at a family, whether that is just a couple or including children, we can look at their baseline normal behavior and consider that homeostasis. The normal routine and emotional stability that a family seeks to create is what helps move us through the days emotionally secure, and physically healthy as a family unit. When there are outside events that start to change the balance for our family situation, our basic psychological desire is to return things to normal. Of course, reality is always giving options to choose that will create positive and negative outcomes for others and us. Will we sacrifice a short-term desire for the well being of our family long-term? Will the things that bring us into debt create a better life and a return to homeostasis for the family? These are questions that make or break financial freedom for families. When debt becomes overwhelming to the current conditions a family finds themselves, it is a fork in the road moment. Extreme debt can bring out sides of our personalities that may have been hidden from our partners when things were more balanced. When blame is introduced into the relationship the debt becomes the runaway train that a couple can’t jump from as it heads for a cliff.

The strength of any relationship is in the way a couple is able to communicate and handle issues that threaten their security.  Often we bring our personal habits into our relationships and if we are not able to create new blended beliefs with our partners, we might have the urge to break away instead of sticking together with our partner when an issue as heavy as extreme debt affects us. Parents must be able to devise a plan for financial recovery together that both partners will buy into. When one or both people are on the brink of bankruptcy or foreclosure, or buried by student loans and consumer debt, the couple may need to bring in professionals to guide them through even the smallest financial decisions. Couples that want to Couples need to draw that line in the sand together, and if one partner can not bear to make the changes in their lifestyle to recover financially, then that might spell the end for that relationship.

Come together as a team

When we decide to join our lives together with another person and maybe even bring children into that family, we are accepting that person for their strengths and their weaknesses. We might have some hope that they will adjust any part of their behavior over time, but once the cow is bought, we better get comfortable with the taste of the milk.  For couples that co-habitate before marriage, they might get a clearer picture of how their partners spend. Of course families don’t have to include a wedding, but financially, once you are bound legally, you are on the hook for the actions of your partner in many cases. For a family utilizing a joint account as the only pool of funds, everyone is hurt by the actions of an over spender or a large debt burden for both partners. When people get together they think until death do us part, but maybe one or both of the couple is in poor financial health from the beginning. If the old normal for the partners created a debt monster, it will take both partners to slay the beast to create a new normal. Family should be looked at as an “all-in” situation. If one partner resents the need to make cutbacks and changes to their lifestyle because the partner created the issue, it will lead to conflicts and potentially sabotage of the financial recovery. If the debt comes from an outside source like an accident or treatment of illness, it might be easier to swallow the need to emotionally accept the need to make changes. When the debt is man-made in nature, it is natural to want to escape blame or not confront the source of the issue.  However the debt originated, it will only benefit the family unit to address it together. If one person is left with the burden to pay, not only will it take longer to pay down the debt, more interest will accumulate. With any family or relationship issue, united we stand, divided we fall. Going back to the debt as a child metaphor, if a couple does not have a united front when disciplining the child, the inconsistency will create more conflict. With debt, there is no good cop bad cop, and no going it alone. A life built together is going to be full of compromises. For the creator of the most debt, they should be aware that they have put a great strain on the unit. The other partner should be empathetic and not make them feel worse than they do already.  When we support our partners we are rewarded in many ways. A stringent financial plan can keep both partners accountable and take some of the animosity out of lifestyle changes that might hurt one partner more than the other.

Don't blame one another

Having open communication about the debt lingering over the family is not the easiest habit to become accustomed to. It is natural that when habits are changing and major transitions from one kind of lifestyle to a more frugal kind of living occur that negativity will arise. Both adults should be honest with one another when the feelings become stressful. The couple can help each other through the moment. If the negativity is too much, seeking psychotherapy or confiding in a close friend can make the difference for people feeling stuck in a bad situation. The partner that carries guilt for the problem will be looking for signs of resentment to justify their guilty feelings. If that is fulfilled, it is that seed for conflict. Part of facing a debt monster is recognizing how it came to be in the first place. If partners look within to recognize their behaviors that created the issue, and are able to communicate these moments to their partner, the team building and understanding gained can be the energy that helps break bad habits and the reinforcing of better behaviors by the partners will keep the debt monster isolated as a source of conflict for the family.

Whatever it takes

The ideal way to start facing a debt monster is to be ready to do anything possible. This is a major step towards a higher quality of life for a family in the long run, but it may require some short-term pain to get back to homeostasis.  This is a make or break moment for a family, and they will need all hands on deck to steer the ship. Building a plan that includes every kind of debt that the couple has, along with all the possible ways to avoid taking on new debts need to be addressed. This family will need to look at all aspects of their life and maybe even need to do some emotional work together to stay in alignment as they plan their fiscal future. The plan should build solutions in the order of which the problems present the most harm to the family. Sacrifice is the key word for crating a new standard of living while the debt is decreased.  Downsizing in many ways is going to be an obvious start, and that kind of behavior should be well thought out, especially if children are involved. You shouldn’t run a marathon without training, in the same way; you should have a training regimen devised for financial health. Humility will be a must during this restructuring of the family lifestyle. Once the plan is in place that has short-term and long-term goals, a couple can gather strength from one another and even seek support from their close friends and extended family as they transition. This planning may be the most important step in any debt situation. Blindly throwing money at debts might leave not enough money to live a minimal lifestyle. Not feeding the kids is not an option, so following the six P’s will be a constant aspect of any debt plan. Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.   

Sustain good habits

My psychological perspective is based in behaviorism, that rewards, consequences, and incentives can make a change in behavior sustainable. Anyone can choose to make changes, but it becomes harder to maintain a new habit without any positive feedback or consequence for non-compliance. A family that is doing their best to reduce an extreme debt can be in the process for years or even decade or more. Without recognizing their strength as a family to keep the faith in one another as well as to stay on target for the long-term plan, the habits may start to break. Encouragement from the partners is obviously important. Another way to feel good about a very difficult process is to gamify the process. Set up a reward for the family when milestones are reached. They don’t have to cost money. A special moment to celebrate together is all it takes to help a couple reconnect and stay motivated to keep moving in a positive direction. It could be a meal out of the house, a visit to relatives, or something sentimental to the family. Without reward and consequences change becomes difficult to sustain. If things go negative and there are mistakes that increase the debt along the way, then a consequence can be created as part of the plan.

What to tell the kids

When children are affected by the lifestyle change, it doesn’t do a family any good to ignore that issue. Parents should be introducing children old enough to ask for stuff about how things come to be in the home and how money works. Games like Monopoly and LIFE are good introductions to buying and spending for children. When a family needs to change the current standards that the children are used to, parents can explain the importance of paying what we owe and what might happen when we do not pay back or give back things we borrow. Obviously we don’t want our children to think that they are being punished as we tighten our belts, so setting our children up with an understanding that sometimes we can not have what we want immediately, we have to work towards things we want, to earn good things. Parents can be creative in the way they transition their family to more frugal living. If they can make eating at home fun and try to make mealtime full of fun and teachable moments, kids might forget about eating out back in the day and the desire to go places that cost. Having a positive attitude, as parents will be contagious for children. Hit the libraries and find free sources of media instead of going to the movies. Introduce more family time at home and once consequence of having a debt monster might be a stronger family bond once you come out the other side.  Major transitions like moving homes and downsizing cars might be a reality, and in those cases kids don’t need to know everything, just that we as a family found a place that will make our lives better after a while, and we want to be as happy as possible.   

This was the follow up to an article written for

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Is your debt affecting the family?

Is your debt affecting the family?

Family debt might as well be considered an extra child to take care of for parents. Its needs increase, as it gets bigger, and will be source of anxiety until it moves out of the house. Just like parenting a rowdy child, both parents need to provide a united front in order to discipline effectively. Initial steps after recognizing a debt issue has gotten out of hand are

Agree that spending or lifestyle choices must change for both partners in order to address the debt.

Agree to not blame one another for creating the debt, and that any tension that spending has created should be addressed openly and honestly.

Reassess the family budget to identify large and small items that can be cut out or where finances can be redistributed to paying down high interest debt as the first priority after a minimum amount is allocated for family needs (not wants).

Once a payment plan is agreed upon, the family needs to incentivize their diligence. Reward one another with emotional boosts that cost nothing and use this time of pinched pennies to find new and cheaper sources of joy.

Depending on how old a child is, I believe that introducing budgeting and sharing how the family will work together to be fiscally healthy is fine. Teens can learn about consumer debt and an important lesson about consequences. If we are addressing massive amounts of debt that necessitate moving homes or liquidating assets in the home that affect the children directly (sorry son, no more PS4) then they can be introduced to the concept of morality and ethics of paying what we owe to people that help us buy things when we don’t have money.

When a family finds itself in deep debt, drastic measures to take the pressure off the parents should be implemented for the greater good. Psychologically, a tight year or two with optimistic and creative parents will be blips on the children’s radar compared to parents that ignore the problem until that extra mouth eats the family out of house and home.

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Arranged Marriages Common in Asia

Arranged Marriages Common in Asia

I have been working in Asia since 2008. I did my doctoral dissertation on the differences between America and Japan in how they choose partners for marriage and one night stands. I currently live and work in China. In Asia, arranged marriages are quite common still. Chinese parents of 20 something children are aggressively trying to pair up their sons and daughters. A parent hires a dating service to find eligible partners, then folders with information about the candidates are given to the parents.

Children oblige their parents and go on many arranged first dates; usually with the parents going along or having the couple meet in one of their homes. The couple is left to chat alone while the parents mingle. The most important questions are related to the ability to afford a mortgage for a home, their work, and their parents jobs. I work with singles that have had to endure these dates, and I have some coworkers that have settled into an arranged marriage but do not think their partner is attractive, funny, nor do they feel any particular emotional attachment to them. They do this out of family obligation. A parent with single adult children is embarrassed for themselves and their child. Japan considers a woman over 25 years old to be a “Christmas cake”. Once they are past their 25th, they are expired. In Japan the “love marriage” is the ideal, but not always practiced. Women desire to be single, wanting to avoid the marriages that they see as the end of their freedom.

There are some benefits to arranged marriages. When a partner is hand picked by the family, they tend to stay on board with the decision. The couple has a common enemy in some ways, and they often strive to make the best of the situation. When there is no strong emotional attachment, they can live more independently than couples that might be more co-dependent. There is less divorce in arranged marriages. Some negatives, for the women in the relationship, is that they are often forced to give up their chance to choose a partner at some age. I have a friend here that had to move home to her small town to “help her mom” but she admitted later that she was being pressured to marry. She wanted to live her life by her own choices. There are many women in the cities that enjoy the single life and resist the family pressure. If they can sustain themselves, they see it as their shot to find their partner before they feel forced to settle down by their parents. 

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Baby Daddy Avoiding His Family

Baby Daddy Avoiding His Family

The reader 911 of the week:

My best friend got divorced last year, and she has a five year old son that she has custody of. The father/ex husband lives across the country, but for the last few months, people have seen him around our town. He just wrote her an email saying he is thinking about moving back, should I tell her that he has already been here for months? I feel like I am keeping something from her.  

Dear Ms. Back in Whack,

As the best friend in this situation I understand how it seems like your duty to let her know that her douche of an ex husband has been living and working in town and has yet to even see his son, much less come clean to her. Your choices seem clear, in that you can spill the beans, since no one else has done it yet, or you can hold off until someone else does. If you tell her yourself, what would you get out of it? She will be upset of course, and she will vent to you about what a bad father he is to be so close but to not come and visit or take him for a weekend or whatever divorced people do these days. She will wonder why no one else told her earlier, making her relationships with other people worse. If you hold on until he tells her, or someone lets her know in passing that they saw him at the store, you are still going to be the shoulder she cries on, and you can support her without being the bearer of bad news. Other people have seen him, but you haven’t. Until you see him with your own eyes, it is just a rumor. When she finds out, tell her that you heard rumors but you didn’t want to say anything until you knew for sure and you will be in the clear put the focus where it should be, on how he is a sneaky dude. Best of luck, remember that you matter most!

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Third Wheel Motion

Third Wheel Motion

The 911 of the week

My problem is that my girlfriend’s sister (who lacks real friends) is constantly trying to be in competition with me. She disagrees with everything I say or tries and piss me off. As shameful as it is sometimes I let it get me mad. The other problem is that she is constantly around. My girlfriend now brings her everywhere with us. Sometimes I feel like it’s because my girl thinks I'm boring or maybe my girl feels sorry for her sister. Regardless, it’s really awkward when her sister is always around. I have to bite my tongue on so many things and it’s just really annoying. And when I say something about it, my girl is just like "Why do you have a problem with me hanging out with my sister?" And that’s incredibly annoying. So how would you suggest I deal with this?

Dear Babysitters Club,

I understand your frustration about having a third wheel on all of your dates. It really sucks that the wheel is a squeaky knobby thing that disrupts the balance within your relationship. The problem is not easily solved and will take showing restraint from your wanting to tell off the sister to go to hell and to not alienate you from your girlfriend. The next time you have alone time with the girlfriend you can express that you appreciate how important her sister is to her and that you fully support her having quality time together with her. Then you tell her that you miss the quality time between the two of you and that you feel like you can’t be yourself when the little sister is around. Tell your girlfriend how much you enjoy showing her affection and flirting with her, discussing intimate details when you two are together. Let her know that you respect her sister and do not want to make her feel uncomfortable by expressing that while she is around. Make sure that you use the right words to explain your feelings. Do not say anything negative about the sister to your girlfriend. That will create a wedge between you and your girlfriend.

Tell your sweetheart that you understand why she brings her sister around and that you can handle her in moderation but that both you and her sister deserve to have alone time with her. If that doesn’t work it is time to kill her with kindness. You are going to date her younger sister. While you are all together you are to invest your emotional energy in the sister. Ask her deep questions about her beliefs and her interests, her love life, what she wants to be in the future.  Eventually your girlfriend will get jealous or feel like you are not paying her enough attention when the three of you are around. She will stop bringing the sister around to make herself feel better and to have more of your energy devoted to her. Either way the problem is solved. Until that happens, try not to kill the sister. Best of luck, remember that you matter most!

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