Saturday, June 25, 2011

Moving Back Home After College

After the refrain of 'Pomp and Circumstance' ends,and the photos are developed,many families are finding it makes sense to have the recent college grad move home for a while as they look for work and restart their life.It's a little like after the party,for everyone involved.Here are some thouhts on easing the transition and adjustments for the graduate, and for the rest of the family.

The graduate left home 4(or possibly 5)years ago as a teenager,and now returns home as an adult,but not yet self-supporting.They have had their own routines,friends,priorities,and life. They are probably grieving,missing friends and their college lifestyle.Now they arrive home,and noone knows what should come next.For the first time in years,there may be no concrete plans or goals.It's like getting off a really fast ride at a theme park,coming to a dead stop.You feel disoriented.College life gears up at about 10pm,when middle-aged parents in suburbia are winding it down towards bed.

Parents may feel a mix of happiness to have the adult child home,and panic and anxiety over what their son or daughter can be doing next.Parents wonder if their offspring will sleep until noon forever, or someday find meaningful work and their own health insurance.Parents and younger siblings have probably adjusted over the years to day-to-day life on their own,and the whole family system has to adjust when the college grad reenters daily family life at home.

From studies of the family life cycle,we know that entrances and exits are the most difficult times for families.Entrances that stress families include births,marriages,adoptions,and family members reentering the family orbit,such as moving home. Exits that stress the family dynamics include serious illness and death,emotional cut-offs,and divorce.

What helps in the adjustment process?

1.Talk about the adjustment,how everyone can help in the process.

2.Having a few clear rules of the house clearly communicated.Issues like laundry days,quiet times,groceries,mealtimes or how food is going to be handled,parking, cleaning etc. need to be discussed.

3.Expectations about actively looking for work or taking other steps forward need to be communicated and agreed on.

4.It is healthy for all family members to contribute something to the household.Perhaps the recent grad can pick up some chores, run errands,or cook sometimes to help.

5.Be kind.Everyone in the family is adjusting to less personal space,more demands,and less freedom.We all have our little patterns,and it is easy,but not advisable,to get testy about needing to change our pattern.

Remember,we were all looking for our first job once,and its not an easy task,especially with the current economy.Keep exercising.Manage your own personal stress level.Get out of the house some,by yourself,with friends,or as a couple.This, too, will pass.The graduate only needs one good offer to get started into the next phase of life,launching and moving on.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our Heroes: Dads,Stepdads, and Granddads

Good,honorable,solid men make such a difference in our lives if they play their role right.We all need men in our lives who are honest,kind,and count-on-able.Sometimes that role can't be played by your father,and another wonderful man steps in,like your stepdad or grandfather.This can be very healing. Fathering is not the one-time event of biology,but the on-going act of fathering and loving a child as they grow and struggle in life,knowing they can count on you for support,wisdom,and love.

Mothers are very important,but they aren't like fathers. While mothers give birth to children,and help them attach and be nurtured, it is fathers who play a critical role in helping a young person move out into the world,become brave,take risks,and develop courage.The Yale Fatherhood study demonstrated that even at a young age at playgrounds,fathers push children higher on swings and stand a bit further away,giving children a little more room to be independent.Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable.Children who grow up with a functional mother and father have a great advantage.

It's also very possible,if a father abandons a child or dies early,that another loving man can fill the gap. I am always amazed at what miracles stepfathers and grandfathers can activate if they bring an open heart,time,and care to the intentional task of being there for a young person whose father couldn't play the role. Much emotional repair and healing can be done by another man choosing to transcend self and care.

Fathers,stepfathers,and grandfathers are also role models for relationships and living with integrity and honesty. How you treat your wife,how you parent,how you live your life sets an unspoken standard.It earns you respect and admiration. The young people in your life are likely to use how you treat others as a template for their own lives.What a huge responsibility and an awesome challenge for your own personal growth.

Today,we honor not just fathers,but stepfathers,grandfathers,uncles,and all the good men who reach out in the effort to help us raise the next generation to be as whole,strong,and courageous as they can be.Thanks to each of you.We women know who you are,and we appreciate you more than you can can know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Takeaway Lessons From Weinergate

Rep.Anthony Weiner(D-NY) finally resigned yesterday,under fire from his congressional colleagues, Nancy Pelosi,President Obama,his constituents,and a whole lot of media attention.What a sad chapter,for Anthony Weiner and for his wife,Huma,who is expecting their first child.Is there anything we can learn from this whole mess about intimacy,honesty,and marriage? Here are a few life lessons we can sift from all the emotional rubble of hurt,embarassment,and unraveling lies.

1.Cheating is cheating.Any secret contact between you and another person that you would not want your partner to know about is unfaithful and disloyal. This includes text messages,sexting,emailing,voice messages,secret meetings,hook ups,emotional affairs and physical contact.If you have to hide a behavior,it's probably wrong. Intimacy is based on trust and transparency.

2. Your behaviors impact your partner and your children and everyone who loves you.Think about the interconnected web of lives you touch BEFORE you do something impulsive.One problem with text messages and tweets is that people feel that the impersonal,supposedly private and immediate nature of the communication emboldens people to do things that they wouldn't normally.

3.Admit it when you make a mistake. Don't blame someone else for your misjudgement. It makes it worse,and causes others to lose trust in you.Weiner might have kept his role in congress if he owned up to his missteps right away and manned up with integrity.Lying about his twitter account being hacked and defensive denials just made him look worse.

4.Beware the needy ego which requires constant feeding and stroking.Something is profoundly broken inside someone who has an insatiable need to be seen as attractive to an ever-changing line up of strangers. Like Narcissus in the Greek myth,this person is more in love with their own perception than a real,loving,and intimate relationship with another person. Can you say shallow and self-absorbed? Real self esteem gives you a sense of creating meaning and peace,not a fire that has to be constantly stoked.

Real intimacy is based in empathy for the other person,devotion,faithfulness,honesty and groundedness.It runs deep.It calls an awareness of the sacred trust between two people.It is about something bigger than self. Emotionally mature people can transcend the moment to moment desires of the self, and instead honor the meaningful relationship you have built with your beloved.Anything less than this cheapens the value of your relationship and you as a person.Perhaps politicians are vulnerable to absolute power corrupting absolutely,and losing their way in the temptation of ego fluffing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why I Loved Conan O'Briens' Commencement Speech

Conan O'Brien recently gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth. It was brillant and yery funny.Try to catch it on youtube if you get a chance.He has some mentally healthy commentary and advice for college grads.I found the reaction of the college president,directly behind Conan, just as funny as his advice.From the perspective of managing change using effective cognitive therapy techniques and schemas,he is spot on.

Conan points out that life is unfair.Accept that reality now,and save yourself time and wasted energy.As hard as you work for a college degree, you now enter a job market where the competition is stiff.And there are all those college drop-outs out there like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg that are in the mix,too.

Conan also shares the insight that your goals keep changing throughout your life and because of your experiences.Disappointments help you clarify and refine your plans.In the speech, he did a beautiful job of using his own recent career struggles as a case in point.He always thought that the pinnacle of success for comedians was to host the Tonight Show.It had been promised to him by the network for over 5 years.We all know what happened. That baby boomer,Jay Leno,refused to stay away and came back to take over.Conan had to reinvent himself and find new ways to reach his audience,including stand-up shows across the US,cultivating a twitter following,and eventually a show on a lesser known cable TV station.

Just as we couldn't imagine ten years ago where we would be today,we can't know exactly where we will be in ten more years.Staying open-minded,humble,creative,and innovative is essential.It might be that on your way to your goal you hit bumps,cliffs,and great disappointment.All of those life experiences might end up making you more interesting and finding your way to a different goal that is all your own.

Here's to Conan,and the class of 2011.May you be tenacious,innovative,and not let the search get you down.The disappointments will only make your victories sweeter.May you pursue not only work and happiness,but also a life with meaning.

Click on the following link to see Conan O'Brien commencement address -

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Please Move Off Center Stage

Sometimes it's all about you. It's your birthday,your wedding,your graduation day,celebrating your career milestone,a new job,or a key success. Maybe it's about you because you are seriously ill, have a family member dying, are ending a love relationship or marriage,or struggling through some other significant loss,and you need support. It's okay to need and/or want to be center stage at these times and ask those close to you to give you special support and consideration.It's appropriate and normal to want to be on center stage at defining moments like these,where your needs take precedence for a while.I enjoy helping couples and families rally together at celebratory times and difficult times.Bonding together at these times defines close,meaningful relationships and families.

Sometimes it's really NOT about you,and you need to move away from center stage and sit in the balcony with the supporting cast. You need to transcend selfishness and narcissism,and suit up and do was is needed to support the other people in your life. It is one of their moments to take the stage. When another person you are close to is celebrating a key accomplishment,or suffering a loss, it is poor form and bad sportsmanship to demand center stage for yourself.Relationships are a team sport. Being able to empathize,nourish,and be there for others in a genuine way is a critically important relational skill.

Narcissists cannot be flexible and adapt to changing needs.They feel so starved for attention at all times that they feel threatened by anybody else getting a turn on center stage. Healthy,adaptive individuals realize that while being center stage feels good,being mature enough to sit in the balcony and cheer on other family members is pretty wonderful,too.Strong families and functional people take turns,and don't hog the spotlight.They understand that intimacy is about not only taking,but being needed and having something to give back to others in a reciprocal fashion.

Move out of center stage this week,and observe what happens.There may be some quiet people that need a turn.Surrender the demand,the control and the attention,and offer someone else a chance.Being a good audience is a really important role,too.What good is a play with an empty theatre?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Decision to Forgive

Forgiveness is ultimately a decision one makes.You might make it because you are exhausted from carrying around so much pain and hurt. You might be concerned about the physical health ramifications of holding a grudge or resentment over a period of months and years.

It doesn't take a perfect apology in order to choose to forgive. Forgiveness is more an internal decision one makes,realizing that all people are flawed,and that you accept whatever hurt was caused and move on in your life.You free up trapped energy that was stuck in justified anger and hurt,forgive the person involved, either literally,through a conversation or in writing,or symbolically, through a forgiveness ritual you can create. Sometimes I have encouraged my patients to have a burning bowl ceremony,where you safely and ceremoniously burn scraps of paper with names or actions you forgive and release.

When is it hard to forgive?

When your partner has betrayed you by becoming emotionally or physically intimate with someone else.

When someone close to you has lied to you.

When your parents were physically or emotionally abusive.

When a sibling rejects you and builds allies in the family against you.

When a co-worker or business partner doesn't keep their commitment,and you are negatively impacted by it.

When a parent falls apart,and can't be there to play their role in your life that you really need.

Amazingly,I have witnessed people in all of these painful circumstances,and others, who choose to forgive.Giving forgiveness,after fully working through your hurt and anger, means choosing peace inside yourself. Choosing to forgive doen't neccesarily mean you can feel safe with that individual again right away,or maybe ever.You don't forget. Forgiveness means you accept the natural weaknesses and imperfections in people you have cared about.You stop feeding the fire of anger,going over the other person's wrongdoings like a movie repeating.You choose your own peace and lightness,because life is fragile,and you reject wasting anymore emotional energy in that negative,hopeless way.

Forgiveness allows you space to add other emotionally satisfying people and experiences to your life.Resentment is about the past. Forgiveness is about freeing yourself from victimhood,and creating emotionally healing experiences with either those you've forgiven, or others you allow into your inner circle. Taking inventory about what grudges or pain you are carrying,and working it through to forgiveness can allow you to take back your life.